DISCLAIMER: While this fan fic does use characters from X:WP and H:TLJ, which are, of course, the sole property of MCA Universal and Renaissance Pictures, it also includes real people from the XenaVerse Mailing List. The premise is that all of the members of the XML live in a complex of buildings on the slopes of Mount Olympus. But Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, and the rest of the characters from the universe of H:TLJ and X:WP interact with them on a regular basis. Also, this will eventually include SPOILERS for several 2nd & 3rd season X:WP episodes.
Also, I did not write this entire epic by myself; James Davis is equally to blame. But, for the sake of continuity, I have edited all of the installments into two reels, to give it the feel of an old cliffhanger serial. Some minor rewriting has also been done to preserve the narrative voice throughout.
Oh, and it's rated the same as the television show: PG14 for suggestive language and mild violence.
"Double Trouble In Macedonia!"
The sun beat down on the site of an archeological dig outside the city of Yiannitsa, causing the men working to unearth the mysteries of the past to sweat profusely as their muscles rippled beneath their light shirts.
"I could just watch them do this all day long," sighed a dark haired woman with a distinct Southern drawl. She was wearing a knee-length flowered dress, silk stockings, and, despite the warnings she had received not to, white high heeled shoes. She glanced over at the woman next to her and pushed her large glasses up with a delicate finger. "Couldn't you, Janice?"
"You have been watching them all day long, Melinda," the other woman replied. She was a blonde with well-tanned skin, wearing khaki shirt and shorts, with a whip and a revolver hanging from her belt and a cigar clenched firmly between her white teeth. A pair of black, steel-toed boots and a rumpled fedora completed her ensemble.
"Well, then, I wasn't lying, was I?" Mel pointed out, continuing to gaze at the men.
Janice Covington scowled and bit down on the cigar, rolling it around her mouth in annoyance. Then, her ears heard a slightly different sound among the various noises, a mild scraping of metal on metal, and she leaped down the slope and straight towards one of the men.
"Give me that," she snapped, tearing the shovel from the confused man's grasp. She carefully probed into the dirt until the tip of the shovel struck something metallic in nature and then carefully scooped the rocks and sand away, exposing the top of what appeared to be a statue.
But it was unlike any the archaeologist had ever seen before.
First of all it was a strange gold-like metal, but with a distinct silver hue. Second, the detail was incredible. Right now the only part exposed was the head--And Janice dearly hoped the rest was intact beneath the surface--but she was already impressed with the intricacy of the carving. She could make out individual hairs on both the head and the face.
That was the other, both amazing and disturbing, thing about it. It was sculpted in what she could clearly see was a moment of intense pain. The head appeared to be thrown back, the eyes wide and the mouth opened in a silent, eternal scream. The gifted artist who had sculpted this had unerringly captured all the agony, all the misery, all the suffering the human spirit was capable of expressing.
Janice found herself sympathizing with the poor man, even to the point of feeling a lump forming in her throat.
Then, Melinda Pappas slammed into her, after having lost her footing on the steep side of the pit in which the statue had been unearthed, and she pitched forward and landed on top of the artifact. The wind rushed from her body as her stomach struck the head of the statue and she let out a small whimper.
"Whoops. Sorry about that, dear," Melinda apologized, regaining her footing. "So, what did you find? Anything interesting?"
Janice sighed and slowly rolled over, exposing the statue.
"Mmm, very nice craftsmanship. But it doesn't look Greek to me," Mel observed. "Too finely detailed. No offense, boys." She smiled demurely at the men surrounding the two women.
The workers smiled back. They understood very little English.
Janice slowly sat up, pulling her hair back up beneath her hat as she straightened it. She picked up her cigar from where it had fallen, brushed the dirt off the soggy end, and put it back in her mouth. She looked around her, judging the era from the depth at which the statue had been discovered, and nodded. "For this early a date, at least," she agreed.
She once more gazed around her, as if trying to place something which just barely eluded her ability to grasp its significance, but then held up a hand as the workers began to resume their digging.
"What is it, Janice?" Mel asked fearfully.
"Trucks. German, from the sound of them. Three of them, and the second one needs its left...no, make it the right front tire realigned. It's pulling to the left," the archaeologist said thoughtfully.
A moment later, three large trucks skidded to a halt at the top of the dig, the one in the center pulling a bit to its left as it did so. They had swastikas emblazoned on their sides and several German soldiers exited from each. Including a man wearing the gray uniform of the SS.
"Guten nachmittag, Fraulein, Herr professor," the man with close-cropped blonde hair said, clicking the heels of his black boots together. "I am Colonel Angriefer of the Schutzstaffel and you are both my prisoners." He casually gestured to the machine guns being aimed at them by his troops. "Kindly drop your weapon, Herr professor, and save the heroics for the actors in motion pictures."
Janice scowled but carefully removed the revolver from the holster on her belt and dropped it to the ground.
"Danken. Now, if you'll--Gott im himmel! What is that?" he suddenly exclaimed, noticing the head of the statue. Particularly the way it reflected the dying rays of the sun in a dazzling golden glow. Before Janice could respond, he had ordered some of his men down into the pit to retrieve the clearly valuable object.
The men quickly finished uncovering the statue, which proved to be intact and depicted a man, life-size, holding his hands, clenched into tight fists of rage and sorrow, in front of him and standing upright, although the knees were slightly buckled, suggesting he was in the process of falling to the ground. Janice once again marveled at the skill of the unknown artist who had so beautifully captured the anguish which the human soul was capable of experiencing. Melinda just made discreet sounds which conveyed her appreciation for the artist's subject, if not the art itself.
"It's too heavy to move, colonel!" a sergeant called from the floor of the pit.
"Then, break it up, Schlaff. But be quick. I don't want to be out here in the dark," he ordered.
"That's a priceless Grecian artifact!" Janice exclaimed, throwing her cigar down angrily. "You can't destroy it!"
"Herr professor, much as I might personally regret the loss of such a beautiful piece of history, necessity demands its destruction," the colonel replied. "This war is expensive and the Fuhrer requires all the gold he can acquire-"
"Steal," Janice growled.
"-to win it. If victory for the Reich means the loss of some inferior race's artwork, so be it," he said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Colonel! We can't break it!" Schlaff cried out in amazement. "It not only resists our efforts, but actually blunts-" a sharp crack sounded behind him. "...er, breaks our tools. What should we do?"
Angriefer's blue eyes grew large as he watched in stunned disbelief as shovels, picks, and hammers shattered when they struck the statue, without so much as leaving a scratch on it.
He turned to the two women. "All right, Fraulein, Herr professor, what is that thing?" he demanded.
Janice and Melinda looked at each other, then at the colonel.
"One of the Gods' door stops?" the archaeologist suggested.
Angriefer lashed out and slapped her hard across her smirking mouth. "Perhaps the answer is in these?" he said smoothly, removing a familiar package from his coat.
"The Xena Scrolls!" gasped Melinda.
"Where'd you get those?" Janice asked, wiping the blood from her split lip.
"A friend of yours was intercepted with them when he attempted to cross into Albania and our Italian allies were kind enough to direct these curious papers to our attention," the colonel explained.
"Where's Jack?" Janice demanded, glaring at the German.
"Herr Kleinman is safe. For the moment, Herr professor," he replied. "You'll be joining him soon enough. But first, I want to find out what that thing is!"
"Translating the scrolls isn't like reading a book, my dear sir," Melinda said haughtily, her Southern accent becoming as thick as her anger. "It's a very time consuming and difficult process."
Angriefer frowned and rubbed his chin. "Very well, Fraulein, you shall have all the time you require. Schlaff! Attach lines to it and we'll use the trucks to haul it out and back to the laboratory," he directed. "Ladies..." He gestured to the truck he'd arrived in and Janice and Melinda got in as the soldiers hurriedly attached several thick cables to the statue. He got in beside them and then, after a couple of false starts, the trucks finally managed to remove the statue from its ancient grave. It left a deep groove in its wake as it was dragged down the dirt road by the straining vehicles.
The Greek men who had been working the site thanked God the Germans had ignored them and quickly made their way to their homes.
Xena watched with growing amusement as Gabrielle tried again to successfully complete the fighting maneuver in which you run up the body of your opponent, kick them in the face or chest, and then flip backwards, landing in front of them, and finish them off with either a punch or a kick. The tree on which the determined Bard was practicing was in no immediate danger, the Warrior Princess decided.
When Gabrielle once more landed on her head on the ground, Xena said, "You need to--"
But the Bard held up her hand. "I can do this on my own, Xena. I just need a little more practice," she stated, standing and brushing herself off. She glared at the tree. "You talkin' to me? HAH!" Gabrielle expertly pummeled it with her staff and then, after taking a moment to collect her thoughts, during which her feet pumped furiously in one place, she charged the tree and ran up its trunk...and fell on her head before she could even begin to execute the kick and back-flip.
As Gabrielle lay on the ground rubbing her head, Xena walked over and crouched next to her. "You need to keep your center of gravity farther up, toward the head of your opponent," she said softly, her stern mouth threatening to break into a grin.
"I knew that," the Bard lied, climbing to her feet. She glowered at the tree and prepared to try again.
"Why do you want to master this move, Gabrielle?" Xena suddenly asked.
"What?" Gabrielle replied, confused by the question.
"Why this move? It doesn't really compliment your staff technique, you know. You'd be better off incorporating moves which take advantage of the staff into your repertoire, instead of trying to mimic what I do," Xena added with a slight smile.
"Mimic??! I'm not trying to mimic what you do, Xena," Gabrielle replied with a little laugh. "I'm just trying to improve my combat skills. So that I can be more useful in our fights."
"You're already useful, Gabrielle," the Warrior Princess assured her. The Bard smiled. "Just stick to what you can do and we'll be fine."
The smile disappeared and was instantly replaced with a determined scowl. "I can do anything I want to. And, right now, I want to master this move." She turned back to the tree and once more pummeled it with her staff. Then, just as she was about to charge it, Joxer emerged from the surrounding forest, getting in between her and the tree. Gabrielle ran forward, up his body, kicked him in the face, and then back-flipped off and landed in front of him. She brought her staff up, intending to hit him in the face--Well, of course, she was intending to hit the tree, but you know what I meant--but the length of the staff resulted in her slamming it between the would-be warrior's legs.
"Nice variation," Xena commented, nodding approvingly.
"Eep," Joxer squeaked. He then fell onto his back, clutching his injured body part.
"Joxer!" Gabrielle exclaimed, dropping her staff. "I didn't mean...I thought you were a tree...Are you all right?"
Joxer slowly nodded his head. "I'm fine," he said in a very high-pitched voice. She reached down to help him to his feet, but he hastily pushed her away. "I, um, think I'll just lay here for a minute."
"What are you doing here?" Xena asked.
"I came to get you! The warlord Inimicles and his army are camped outside of Edom. Right now he's negotiating with them for something, but..." Joxer's voice trailed off and he shrugged.
"Edom? Isn't that one of the villages founded by the Israelites?" Gabrielle asked, looking over at Xena.
The Warrior Princess nodded. "Inimicles, huh? We've never met, but I've heard of him. I didn't think he operated around these parts," she said thoughtfully.
"What have you heard?" the Bard inquired.
"Not much. He's ambitious and more than a little crazy-" Xena began.
"Like all warlords," Gabrielle added, glancing at her companion and stifling a smile.
"He's also rumored to have shunned Ares," Xena added, ignoring the backhanded jibe.
"Maybe he's not as crazy as you thought," Gabby suggested.
"Just because he doesn't worship Ares doesn't make him any less ruthless, Gabrielle," Xena frowned. "In fact, it makes him even more brutal."
"More brutal?" Joxer questioned, rising shakily to his feet. "I don't get it."
"He routinely butchers entire cities loyal to Ares, just to spite him," Xena explained. "Until now he's been operating in Caria and Phrygia. I wonder what brought him up here?" She stared off into space for a moment, during which time Joxer and Gabrielle exchanged questioning glances. "C'mon, Gabrielle, we're going to find out what he's up to."
"Great!" grinned Joxer.
"No. Joxer, I need you to go and warn the XenaVerse complex that Inimicles is in the area and might be heading their way," the Warrior Princess said sternly. "Gabrielle and I will handle this."
"But...Okay," Joxer finally agreed when he saw the steely gaze directed at him. "But after I warn them, I'm joining you."
"Fine," sighed Xena, knowing better than to waste her breath and time arguing with the determined would-be warrior. She swung up onto Argo and then she and Gabrielle headed off toward Edom.
Once they were out of sight, Joxer pulled a dove from under his helmet and hastily scrawled out a note warning the XenaVersians of the warlord's presence. "She never said how to warn them," he chuckled. Then, he attached it to the bird's leg and released it, knowing it would return to Pegasus Pizza, and ran off in a different direction than that taken by the Warrior Princess and the Bard, intending to meet them at Edom.
Unfortunately, as he was making his way through the woods near the village, he ran into a patrol of Inimicles' men. "Hi, fellas," he smiled, waving weakly. "How's things in the conquer and pillage business?"
"Who are you?" demanded the party's leader, placing the tip of his sword very deliberately on Joxer's chest.
"I'm Joxer the Mighty," the would-be warrior replied in a deep baritone, puffing out his chest. Unfortunately, this caused the point of the soldier's sword to slightly stick into him. "Ow. You've heard of me, right?" he added hopefully.
"No, can't say that I have," the thug said. "And, after today, no one ever will again. Kill him." He removed his sword and turned away as the rest of the patrol closed in on Joxer.
"I should warn you that I'm not only a highly-skilled warrior," Joxer said quickly, backing away and pulling his slightly bent sword from its scabbard, "but I'm also good friends with Xena, and she'll tear your hearts out if anything happens to me."
The leader of the patrol turned at the sound of Xena's name. "Hold on. Did you say you were friends with Xena?" he inquired, pushing past his men and confronting Joxer face to face.
The would-be warrior nodded. "We're more like comrades than friends, though," he added with a slight swagger, hoping the man didn't notice how badly his knees were shaking.
"Inimicles will want to talk to you personally. Bring him," the man said and turned to head back to the main camp.
Joxer, after being prodded by the other soldiers, followed.
The would-be warrior was dragged into the warlord's camp and thrown to the ground. While one of his captors held his foot on Joxer's back to keep him down, another went to a large tent directly in front of where Joxer lay and, opening the flap of the tent, he disappeared inside. The other men wandered off, heading toward the mess tent.
As Joxer lay pinned to the ground he took advantage of the boredom of the guard resting his foot on his back to risk taking a look around the camp.
He saw that the camp was very well laid out with constantly roving patrols. The soldier noticed Joxer's curiosity and placed more weight on Joxer's back forcing one side of his face to press painfully against the ground. But Joxer could see with the eye that was facing upward that there were even sentries placed in the trees to watch the compound. The soldier once again relaxing his weight off of Joxer's back, allowed the would-be warrior to raise and turn his head.
Joxer watched as two more soldiers entered the camp and stood a few feet away waiting for the warlord to come out. The new arrivals had obviously been in a fight and, judging by the miserable looks on their faces, they had lost.
Hearing a noise from the tent, Joxer turned his head and as best as he could from his position on the ground watched the tent flap open. First to come out was the soldier who had helped capture him. He moved over to stand with his partner and together they lifted Joxer up off of the ground and held him between them. Seeing the tent flap open again Joxer watched as the warlord Inimicles stepped out into the sunlight.
"It can't be!" Joxer muttered in shock to himself.
The warlord was wearing black leather armor. Upon his arms, he wore black gauntlets and his hands were covered with gloves that had wicked looking metal spikes covering the knuckles, but it was his face that held Joxer's attention; it was the spitting image of Joxer's dead friend, the Bard James!
Inimicles looked first at Joxer and then turned and looked at the two battered soldiers standing at attention nearby. Waving his hand in Joxer's direction, he said, "I'll deal with this one in a moment, but first, these two!" Striding a few paces until he was in front of the beaten soldiers, he paused and scowled. "I sent you two to lead a party of ten men to the village of Edom to acquire something for me. Yet, you have returned, without the item I sent you for and you are eight men less than you were. Why is this, Wolf?"
One of the two soldiers stepped forward and, with a stutter, started to explain, "We were attacked by twenty men. They were heavily armed with swords. We fought our best but only I and Hawk got away my Lord!"
The warlord continued to stare at the man without saying anything for the moment. Being a warlord who did not show allegiance to Ares, the god of war, many of his men took the names of animals in the superstitious belief that the god of war would not be able to find them if he did not know what their real names were.
Inimicles did not hold with this silly thought but he did not forbid his men from renaming themselves. As for himself, he glorified in taunting Ares with his name by carving it into the flesh of Ares' priests and followers every chance he got.
Some of his army deserved the nicknames they chose for themselves. Wolf was not one of them. Oh, he had the viciousness of a wolf, true, but he had none of the intelligence or courage of his animal namesake. All of this passed through the warlord's mind as he looked at the bully of a man before him.
Without taking his eyes off of Wolf, Inimicles asked in a growl to Hawk, "Is this what happened, Hawk?"
Hawk, a new recruit who was not sure of his new leader yet, swallowed a few times and then replied, "No, my lord. We arrived at the town's gate and was met by some of the town's elders. We told them what we were looking for and they told us that they were sorry but we would not be taking it. Wolf then told them that we could easily tear their pitiful town down and take what we wanted. The elders talked among themselves for a moment and then told us to follow them. We entered the town and found a fancy tiled town square. The square was completely empty. At one end of the square there was a statue of a seated man holding a scroll in one of his hands. Wolf sent the rest of us in to follow the elders and he stayed at the back of the square near the gate. The elders walked to the statue and then one of them said they were sorry for having to do this. He pulled down on the scroll and I felt the whole floor of the square start to tilt. I leapt to the side and managed to get away. Wolf, who was by the gate, didn't get trapped by the trick floor but the rest of our men fell into a pit with spikes."
Wolf yelled out, "He's lying, my Lord! Believe me!"
Inimicles finally took his eyes off of Wolf and looked at Hawk. Now, there was a man who matched his nickname. A thin youth with a sharply angled nose and eyes that missed nothing. He also had a true predator's mind. That was why Inimicles chose him when he asked to be added to his army.
"If things are the way you say, why do you both look like you have been in a fight?" Inimicles growled at him.
"We were set upon by the village youths with staffs after the rest of our men were killed and we had to fight our way out," Hawk replied hesitantly, clearly fearful of the warlord's reaction.
Wolf yelled again. "He is lying! He ran from the battle and I caught up to him outside of our camp!"
Inimicles lowered his voice to a gentle tone and allowed a smile to appear on his face. "Now, Wolf, calm down. You've had a rough time recently and I appreciate all of your hard work."
To Joxer's confusion the man started to shake with fear and whimper at the gentle tone the warlord was now using. Joxer looked at the man named Hawk and saw confusion on his face as well. Turning his head, Joxer saw with amazement that everyone else in the camp was moving as slowly and as inconspicuously as they could away from the three men. Even the soldiers holding Joxer started to step back slowly.
"You just used a little bad judgement back there is all" Inimicles continued. "But I'm afraid because of that I am..." Inimicles moved so fast Joxer barely saw the warlord pull his short sword and slice Wolf from his groin to the tip of his throat. The warlord reached inside the man and, pulling his guts out, he showed them to the terrified man "...going to have to sever our working relationship. Sorry."
Wolf, after looking at his own guts for a moment, rolled his eyes back in his head and fell forward and died.
Inimicles looked at the white faced Hawk. "If he had found you outside of camp after fleeing a battle he would have killed you. Not just brought you into camp with him." Seeing that Hawk still staring at him with confusion, he added, "Oh, that! My parents never gave me much but they did teach me that there are three times when you should be extra polite to a man or woman: Their birthday, their wedding day, and their death day. Today was Wolf's death day." Inimicles lost the smile on his face and growled at Hawk, "Take his body and drag it around the camp behind your horse five times and then hang it from a tree as a warning to my men. I don't tolerate failure or lying to me! Oh, and there's no reason to ruin the men's meals, so hang it downwind from the mess tent." Inimicles started to turn away but, turning back he added, "However, there's no reason for them to enjoy their meals too much when I have been denied what I want, so hang it were it is visible from the mess tent."
Inimicles then turned and, walking toward Joxer and his guards, he licked the blood off of his hand. Arriving in front of Joxer, he smiled and asked in a pleasant voice, "So, you're friends with Xena?"
Joxer promptly fainted.
As the three trucks bounced down the dirt road, Janice briefly considered disabling the SS colonel and the driver, then using the vehicle as a ramming device to force the other two trucks off the road, dispatching the soldiers with the machine guns in the back of this truck, and then rescuing Jack and heading for the American Embassy in Thessaloniki.
Only two things prevented her: 1) The Lugar which Angriefer had jammed into Mel's ribs, and 2) She had no idea where Jack was being held.
So, the archaeologist bided her time and rode along in silence while Mel chatted with the German officer.
"What's your interest in some dusty old scrolls?" Mel asked, batting her eyes fetchingly.
"Personally, Fraulein, I have none. I prefer to study the history of my own glorious people, rather than the scribbles of uncivilized barbarians," Angriefer replied. "But our glorious Fuhrer has sent teams all over the globe searching for anything which might aid him in his struggle to free the German people from the yoke of oppression placed upon their shoulders after the last war."
"I see. And how do you suppose these obscure scrolls will help him do that?" Melinda inquired.
"Once you have translated them, I'll be in a better position to answer that, Fraulein," he smiled. "But, just based on what your associate, Herr Kleinman, told us, they should prove quite interesting to the Fuhrer."
"And just what did Jack tell you?" Janice suddenly asked, glancing around Mel and looking the German in the eyes.
"He was quite informative, once we loosened his tongue a bit, and a couple of teeth," the colonel added, smiling cruelly. "He told us all about your encounter with the being who called himself Ares."
"I was there, colonel, and, as difficult as it might be to believe, it was Ares," Melinda assured him.
"Of course it wasn't, Fraulein. The Greek Gods are simply characters in stories, made up to explain the workings of a world their creators couldn't comprehend," Angriefer explained. "What you met was an alien."
"An alien??!" Mel exclaimed.
"Ja. Possibly from Mars or Venus," he elaborated.
"Mars or Venus?" she pressed.
"Of course. Those are the only two planets capable of sustaining life in the Solar system. You surely don't think an alien could come from beyond our own system, do you?" He chuckled at the thought.
"Nah, that's just silly," Janice said, urging Mel to play along with her eyes. "So, if the being we met was an alien, what's that to Hitler?"
"By posing as the Greek God of warfare, it's obvious that the alien is not only familiar with war, but revels in it. Therefore, the Fuhrer wishes to make sure that this so-called Ares is on the side of the Third Reich. Possibly, he will be able to provide us with some fantastic weapons, or the knowledge to create them."
"Ares wasn't the brightest bulb in the pack, colonel," Janice stated. "Don't hold your breath waiting for knowledge. Besides, he's gone. He, um, went back to Mars."
"Herr Kleinman told us you buried him in his spaceship," Angriefer corrected.
"Spaceship??!" Mel exclaimed.
"He said tomb, of course, but I know it was his spaceship."
"Right. Well, anyway, the explosion was just to hide the, er, spaceship's, um, take off," Janice explained, trying to keep a straight face and glaring at Mel to keep quiet. "Jack was so alarmed by the whole experience, we thought it best to let him think Ares had simply been buried."
The colonel studied the archaeologist's face, looking deeply into her emerald eyes. Finally, he shook his head slowly. "A pity, Herr professor. The Fuhrer will be disappointed to learn this," he said sadly.
"Well, you can't win'em all," Janice shrugged.
"Let us hope that this metal man proves less of a disappointment to him, for your sakes’," Angriefer said with quiet menace. "Ah, here we are."
The headlights of the three trucks illuminated a large stone structure sitting atop a small hill. From the construction, Janice guessed it was a castle from the late 15th century, built during the Ottoman conquest. They were escorted inside and, after passing through a large entry hall, led up some ancient stone stairs and down a hallway. An armed guard stood in front of one of the doors.
The soldier saluted crisply and stepped aside when Angriefer approached, opening the door as he did so.
A man with exaggerated features looked up at them, his face puffy and black and blue from several recent beatings. It was clear from his disheveled appearance that he'd been their "guest" for a while.
"Jack!" Mel exclaimed, rushing to his side. "Are you all right?"
"I won't be winning any beauty contests for a while, but I'll live," he replied.
"Can we expect the same treatment?" Janice demanded, glaring angrily at the SS officer.
"Only if you prove difficult, Herr professor," he replied smoothly. "See that you don't."
He then left and they heard the sound of a key turning in the lock.
"Albania??!" Janice exclaimed, turning to Jack, her green eyes shining with exasperation. "What the Hell were you thinking?"
"I got lost," he shrugged. "And when I saw this little booth by the side of the road, I thought it was one of those information thingies and stopped to ask directions."
"This is just great! We entrusted those scrolls to you, Jack, because you swore you could get them back to the states. Now, not only are they not in the states, they're in the hands of the Nazis!" Janice hissed in a sort of strangled whispering shout.
"Sorry," Jack said sheepishly.
"Sorry??! As if all that wasn't bad enough, you actually told them about Ares and the tomb!" she snarled, threatening to go into some sort of apoplectic fit. "Are you insane??!! If the Nazis free Ares somehow, we'll all be goose-stepping by Christmas!"
"Now, Janice," Mel cooed, stroking Jack's hair, "it looks like they worked poor Jack over pretty good and, with your story about Ares going back to Mars, I don't think we need to worry about that happening. I'll explain later, darlin'," she added in response to Jack's puzzled look.
"Well, those krauts made one serious mistake," Janice growled, removing a cigar from her shirt pocket and lighting it by striking a match against Jack's unshaven cheek. "They left Jack with us." She walked over to the window and peered outside. Unfortunately, not only were there bars on the window, but armed guards patrolling the grounds below. Scowling, she walked back over to her two friends.
"Okay, here's the plan..."
After hearing the key in the lock, they heard knob turn and saw the door swing inward. Since all the lights in the room itself had been extinguished, the only light came from the gas lamps lining the hallway. Janice grabbed the outline in the doorway, clamping her arm around the struggling individual's throat and applying near-deadly pressure.
"Relax, mein Herr, and you'll live through the next few minutes," Janice hissed into her captive's ear. "Tell the goon to drop his gun or I'll snap your neck like burnt bratwurst."
"Hey! I'm no Herr!" a distinctly female voice choked out.
Angriefer, followed by the armed guard, entered and switched on the light, revealing that Dr. Covington held in her arms a woman with dark skin, long black hair, and large brown eyes. She was wearing a green silk blouse and black loose-fitting pants of some light material.
"I'd like to introduce you all to another guest of the Reich, Dr. Isidora Lykken," the colonel said snidely.
"The Egyptologist?" Janice asked the woman in her grasp.
"The late Egyptologist if you don't loosen that grip, sister," she replied, nodding as best she was able.
"Sorry," Jan said, letting her go.
"Why don't you get to know each other, since you'll all be working together. Dinner is in an hour. Oh, and I warned you once to save the heroics for the actors in motion pictures, Dr. Covington. I will not warn you again," he stated, closing the door and locking it.
Entering the kitchen from the hallway that lead to the pigeon coups, Julie was reading a note with a puzzled look on her face. "Hey, Buffy! We've got a message from one of our pigeons but I can't make heads or tails out of it."
Buffy turned from the counter where she was kneading some pizza dough and, wiping the flour off of her hands on a dish towel, she held her hand up for the note. Turning the note one way and then the other she finally spoke, "I make it out to read, 'Inimicles is coming'."
"Okay. So what's an Inimicles?" Julie said putting her hands on her hips.
Buffy stood with a confused look on her face for a moment and then scowled. "It must be one of those ad birds we get every once in a while. You know, for a new product coming out on the market."
"Okay. So what's an Inimicles?" Julie repeated. "I know. Maybe it's a new brand of soap for the hot tub group upstairs. You know, `Get hot and wet with Inimicles in your tub'?"
Buffy looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook her head. "It came to us so it must be for the pizza place. Maybe it's a new pizza. `I'll have a hot Inimicles smothered in gooey sauce and cheese'?"
Julie shook her head. "Maybe a new drink? `I'll have a swallow of Inimicles'?"
Buffy thought for a moment. "I don't know. Inimicles doesn't exactly roll off of the tongue. `I'll have an Inimicles straight'? It just doesn't sound natural somehow."
"So, what do I do about this message?" Julie asked Buffy as she took back the note.
"Throw it away. If it was important, they would have given us more information."
Joxer, with a sudden jerk, came awake. Slowly opening his eyes he saw that he was inside the warlord Inimicles' large tent. Wondering why he seemed to be several feet off of the floor, Joxer craned his head around and saw that he was chained to a large wooden X at one side of the tent. Looking around he saw that the tent was sparsely furnished. There was a large table in the middle of the tent with maps laid out on it. At the very back of the tent was a bedroll and to the left of it was one chair. A chest near the front flap of the tent was the last piece of furniture to be found. `I wonder what's in the chest?' Joxer thought to himself. After all manner of unpleasant things that could be in the chest was suggested to him by his imagination, however, he decided he didn't want to know what might be in the chest.
The sudden glare of sunlight that came into the tent when the flap was open caught Joxer's attention, and he watched as the warlord who was wearing his friend James' face entered the tent.
"Why am I here?" he asked in a voice that he thought was fearsome, but only came out as scared.
"I thought you would be more comfortable chained up in here, than outside in the sunlight," Inimicles answered him.
"That's not what I meant. If you only knew who you have chained, you would be worried, then." Joxer tried to growl.
"You are Joxer. You like to call yourself Joxer the Mighty. Your parents were warlords, before they were captured and imprisoned. You have two brothers. One named Jett, who was an assassin before he was caught, and the other one is named Jace." Here, the warlord frowned. "My sources could not get any more information on that brother at all.
Joxer just tried his best to shrug and kept quiet.
"For reasons that I cannot fathom, Xena the Warrior Princess occasionally allows you to hang out with her and the Amazon Queen Gabrielle."
"You had me checked out?" Joxer squeaked in surprise. "Smart move to find out about the great warriors in an area before you try to move in," Joxer finished, trying to puff his chest out. Not easy to do when you are chained to a wooden X.
The warlord walked back to the chair and dragged it so he could sit and face Joxer. "Xena is the one I'm interested in. But information is always important, so I found out as much as I could about her friends."
"You can torture me as much as you want, but I'll never tell you anything about Xena!" Joxer yelled defiantly.
"Torture is such an ugly word, and it's all relative anyway. Just spend some time with your relatives and you'll see what I mean."
"If I'm not here to be tortured for information, why am I here?"
"As insurance in case Xena does show up. Besides, I don't want to hurt you, Joxer. We have a lot in common."
"Well, both of our parents were warlords. And we both had brothers that picked on us when we were younger." The warlord settled back in the chair and his eyes got a faraway look in them. "My parents wanted my older brother to be a great warlord. So, at the age of 13 my brother was lead to a temple of Ares. I was 10 then. I was tied to the altar and my brother was left with a knife to sacrifice me to Ares."
"That's horrible!" Joxer exclaimed.
The warlord did not even notice that Joxer had spoken. "Unfortunately for my brother, he just did not have the cold-blooded killer instinct in him."
"What happened?" Joxer asked.
The warlord smiled wolfishly at Joxer. "I did have the killer instinct. I killed my brother after he untied me and I sacrificed him, but not to that miserable excuse for a god, Ares, but to myself! In my name!" Inimicles shouted at Joxer.
"Gee, how did your parents take it?" Joxer asked in a small voice.
"They were very upset. So, I killed them, too," he replied with a shrug of his mighty shoulders. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have plans to attend to." The warlord rose from his chair and went outside.
"Oh, Xena and Gabrielle, if you're out there, I think I really stepped in the centaur poop this time!" Joxer quietly said to the empty tent.
With a cloud of dust, Xena and Gabrielle on Argo pulled to a stop at the village gates of Edom. Xena, dismounting in a hurry, looked around but was surprised at the peaceful scene that met her.
"The people here sure don't look like they're under attack from a warlord, do they?" Gabrielle asked, slowly dismounting from Argo.
Xena was about to answer when she is stopped by the arrival of a very old man with a white beard.
"What business do you have in this village, warrior?" the old man asked without a trace of anger.
"I heard that a warlord was in the area and I came to see if I could help," Xena explained while she continued to scan the area for trouble.
"Yes, he sent some men to try and negotiate with us for the holy item, but we refused. His men then tried to take it but we stopped them with one of our traps," the old man calmly replied.
"What is this holy item?" Gabrielle could not help but blurt out.
"That we do not know. It was entrusted to our most holy man to look after when we came to this valley. He had a great maze built underground and placed the holy item somewhere in the maze and filled the path to it with traps and locks and logic puzzles. He then ordered this village to be built over the maze. When all the work was done, he entered the maze one last time and was never seen again. That was some 15 years ago. None of the rest of us know what the holy item is or where it is located inside the maze."
"Well you stopped the men who were sent to get it anyway, so that's that, right?" Gabrielle asked, looking first at Xena and then the old man.
"No. Two men escaped the trap and managed to get away to report to their leader. Our trap will not catch them unaware again," the old man continued calmly.
"Inimicles won't be scared off by losing a few of his men. He'll come back again and again till he gets what he wants. He'll kill all of your people, unless you give this item to him," Xena said, fighting an urge to shake the old man to get him to show some emotion.
"As I said, we cannot give it to him even if we wanted to. We do not know how to find the item or how to avoid the traps to search for it," the old man calmly replied.
"I think I know someone who can, though," Xena said with a gleam in her eye.
"Autolycus," Gabrielle said with a smile on her face. "Let's go get him. Once we have this holy item, we can use it to draw Inimicles to a spot away from all these villagers and then fight him. Right, Xena?"
"Right! Except, I'll go find him while you stay here," Xena spoke quickly to stop the argument she could see beginning in Gabrielle's eyes. "I need you to stay here and, if another envoy from Inimicles shows up asking for the holy item, delay them. You can also help the village build up its defenses." Xena turned to the strangely calm old man. "If that is all right with your people?"
"Of course. The Lord always provides help to those who will accept it. We knew that someone would come to our aid when we needed it," the old man said with a bow to Xena.
Xena clasped Gabrielle's arm in a warrior's handshake and then used it to pull her into a hug. "Don't try and fight Inimicles yourself. Don't try to find this holy item until I get back with Autolycus. And, most important of all, stay out of trouble!" Xena said quietly to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle stepped back from the hug. "What kind of trouble can I get into here at the village?" she asked peevishly.
Xena did not answer, but merely raised one eyebrow and remounted Argo. With one last look back at Gabrielle she rode off to find Autolycus.
Janice appraised the newcomer, scowling as she paced around her, rolling the cigar around in her mouth and making unsatisfied grunting noises as she debated silently with herself. Finally, reaching some sort of conclusion to her internal struggle, she faced the darker woman and demanded, "What does Gerry want with an Egyptologist in the first place, let alone in Greece?"
"They discovered some artifact here, an Egyptian artifact, and, because of my ancestry, arranged to have me brought here. I was told it was to deliver a lecture to the University of Athens," she explained as her eyes roamed freely up and down the archaeologist and her dark haired companion. Janice and the others immediately noticed her distinct English accent. "But when I arrived in Greece, I was brought here and ordered to unlock
the secrets of the ankh."
"The ankh?" Jack questioned. "What's an ankh?"
"It's the Egyptian symbol for rebirth or life," Mel said quickly. "It looks like a cross with a loop on the top."
Dr. Lykken nodded approvingly. "Very good, love. You're not just a pretty face, after all," she smiled.
"Why do they think you can unlock the secrets of this ankh, assuming it even has any to be unlocked?" Janice asked.
"Oh, if it's what I think it is, ducks, it's definitely got some secrets locked away," Isidora assured her. "As for why me: Simple, I'm the last living descendant of Cleopatra VII. You know, the one who seduced both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. This chap you may have heard of wrote a play about her. His name was William Bloody Shakespeare."
"What an awful name!" Jack exclaimed. "I'll bet he got teased a lot in school."
"Just ignore him, Dr. Lykken," Janice sighed.
"Call me Dori, all my friends do," she said quickly.
"Oh, where on Earth are my manners?" Mel exclaimed. "I'm Melinda Pappas, this is Jack Kleinman, and this is Dr. Janice Covington. I'm ever so pleased to meet you."
"Charmed, I'm sure," Jack added.
"Yeah, yeah. But, Dori, as every school child knows, Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemies. None of her children survived. So, you can't be her descendant," Janice pointed out, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at the other woman as she inhaled deeply on the cigar clenched firmly between her white teeth. "And that means you're nothing but a lying piece of Nazi trash." She blew the smoke she'd inhaled directly into Dori's face, causing the other woman to cough violently.
Janice cocked her arm, fist clenched, and prepared to strike the woman while she was helplessly coughing, but Dori suddenly choked out, "Wait! Let me explain! Why would I make up such a ridiculous story?"
"She's got a point, Janice," Melinda said, pursing her lips. "No one trying to fool a couple of history experts would choose such a patently false cover story."
Janice nodded and walked over and sat down on the bed next to Melinda. "Start talkin'," she grunted.
Dori coughed the last of the smoke away and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of them. "According to the story handed down from parent to child for over a thousand years, while on a visit to Greece before she became Queen, Cleopatra met a man named Autolycus," she explained. Mel and Janice exchanged surprised glances with each other. "When she returned to Egypt, she discovered that she was pregnant with his child. Fearing the consequences of this indiscretion, she had the baby in secret, away from the prying eyes of the court at Alexandria. The boy, whom she named Autolemy, was raised by trusted servants as one of their own, but when he was old enough to understand, Cleopatra revealed the truth of his heritage to him. By this time she had given birth to several other children by both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, but, still fearing for his safety, now for entirely different reasons, she sent him to Greece. He was the only one to
survive Octavian's revenge."
"Let's just say for the moment that your story is true," Janice said slowly. "I still have two questions: How does your ancestry figure into this whole ankh business? And, how in the world did the Germans find out about it?"
"Well, after graduating from the Institute of Archaeology at University College in London, I did some post-graduate work at the Rheinische Friedrich Wilhlems Universitat in Bonn. One of my papers at that time was an attempt to legitimize the historical accuracy of my family's claim that they were the living descendants of the Ptolemies. Unfortunately," she added with a frown, "I couldn't find any evidence that this Autolycus ever existed. Just a bunch of myths about a `King of Thieves.'"
"We might be able to help you prove your claim," Mel said slowly, after glancing over at Janice, who nodded slightly.
"But that still doesn't explain why your ancestry, even if true, is significant to the Nazis," the archaeologist reminded her.
"From Autolemy to myself, the ancient rituals, known only to the Pharaohs of Egypt, have been passed on, including the ritual which activates the Ankh of Osiris," Dori explained.
"Don't tell me the Krauts have that!" Janice exclaimed. Dori nodded. "Oh, that's just great!"
"I'm unfamiliar with this Ankh of Osiris, Dori," Mel said, not liking the look on Janice's face. "Perhaps you could explain its powers..."
"Sure thing, love, but you're not going to like it," Dori promised.
When the quartet of prisoners arrived in the main dining hall for their evening meal, they were not surprised to find Colonel Angriefer already seated and enjoying some ouzo. But seated at the table with him was an older man with a bald pate and enormous, owl-like glasses. He was wearing a dark suit beneath a white lab jacket and he smiled unsettlingly when they entered and were seated.
"Frauleins, Herr Kleinman, allow me to introduce the brilliant physicist, Professor Dinglehoffstederachtungiosky," the colonel smiled, indicating the man who was far too small for such a name. "He is working on a device which will help to ensure the Reich's victory. Perhaps you would care to explain your project, Herr professor?"
"Certainly, colonel, always happy to enlighten the lower races, when possible," he chuckled. "I call it `Photon Emitting in Narrow Intensity Stimulation.' It works on the principle that normal light is incoherent and unfocused..." He then went on to describe his theory about the concentrating of light to the point where it could actually be used as
a weapon. "What do you think?" he asked when he had finished.
"Light amplified by stimulated emission of radiation..." Mel pondered, absently chewing on her lower lip. "It sounds crazy to me."
"Crazy, is it?!" the professor cried, leaping to his feet, whereupon they realized that he was quite short, since he'd actually been taller when he was seated. "They called Da Vinci crazy, too!"
"No, they didn't," Melinda said, shaking her head.
"Galileo. They called him crazy, right?" Dinglehoffstederachtungiosky asked sheepishly.
"Not really. The Church Fathers condemned his Heliocentric theory, but they never called him crazy. Just blasphemous," she said, shrugging.
"What about Newton?" the professor inquired.
"That's just a myth. He was highly respected before and after his voyage to the New World."
"Edison?" he tried, sitting back down.
"I'm afraid not."
The professor sat silently for a few moments. "Maybe it is crazy," he conceded. "But once I have finished the refinements on the prototype, we'll see who's crazy, Fraulein! Then, the world will tremble before the insane power wielded by the Third Reich!" he screamed, jumping up onto his chair and waving his arms around frantically.
"Professor, perhaps you should retire to your room," Angriefer suggested, motioning for one of the guards to escort him. "You've had a full day and tomorrow is likely to be busy as well."
The older man nodded and climbed down from his chair. "You're right, colonel. Guten abend, Frauleins, Herr Kleinman, colonel." He then followed the soldier from the room.
"He's a few dates short of a fruitcake," Janice commented once he'd gone.
"The professor has had a hard life," Angriefer said, nodding in agreement.
"With a name like his, I don't doubt it," Jack whistled.
"However, he is a brilliant scientist and, despite what you might think, I've seen his device and studied the principles behind it, and I believe it will work as he says," the colonel stated.
"Well, no one here has accused you of having all the workings to make your clock cuckoo either," Janice pointed out.
"Do not push your luck with me, Herr professor. I have Frau Pappas and Professor Lykken. You and Herr Kleinman are quite expendable," he informed her.
"Not if you want my cooperation, they're not," Mel stated angrily.
"My dear Frau Pappas, we have other ways to make you cooperate, if we need them," he sneered, his blue eyes glinting with menace. "But for the time being, you have my word that no harm will come to your friends, providing you translate the scrolls for us. Agreed?"
Melinda scowled but reluctantly nodded. "Agreed," she said quietly.
"Excellent. Now, why don't we enjoy this sumptuous meal, and the fine dessert our cooks have prepared, and then turn in. You and Frau Lykken have a lot of work to do tomorrow," he added, digging into his sausage.
Autolycus carefully lowered himself from the skylight of the building using his grappling hook and line until he was able to reach the glass dome covering the object of his larcenous desires: A fantastic golden sculpture depicting Zeus as a swan with diamond eyes. It was a scene from the story of the King of the Gods' seduction of Leda, and the prized possession of the town of Tangae. As he carefully removed the dome and set it to the side, the King of Thieves tried to convince himself that he was stealing this piece because he was personally offended by the adoration being accorded Zeus in a disguise whose only purpose was to seduce an innocent young woman, and that the dinars he would receive for the piece meant next to nothing.
In reality, of course, he was not only already spending the dinars on wine, women, and whatever else he could, but was jealous of Zeus for being able to do such a thing.
Still, it made the theft easier on his conscience to think it was otherwise. And, if there was one thing Autolycus excelled at, it was deluding himself.
As he started to draw himself back up to the roof, he heard an unmistakable voice cut through the silence of the hall.
"Put it back, Autolycus."
He looked over and saw Xena standing near the entrance, shaking her head and scowling. "Now," she added, removing her chakram from her belt.
"You wouldn't!" Auto gasped.
Xena just grinned wolfishly.
"You would," he said miserably. He reluctantly replaced the statue and was just in the process of replacing the dome when several of the city's guards burst into the room.
"Stop, thieves!" they shouted.
"Don't worry about it, gentlemen," Xena said. "We were just leaving."
"Quiet, wench!" one of them said, raising his sword threateningly.
"Uh, trust me here, fella, you definitely don't want to do that," Auto warned, dropping to the ground and retrieving his grappling hook with a flick of his wrist.
"Why? Is the little girlie-wurlie gonna cwy?" the soldier chuckled, causing his companions to laugh.
"No, but she might make you eat that thing if you don't get it out of her face," Autolycus replied.
"Ooh, I am soooo scared," the man mocked.
"Good. I prefer my men frightened," Xena smiled. Suddenly, she punched him in the face so hard that he just fell to his rear. He spit out a couple of teeth and then toppled backwards.
Predictably, his companions screamed and charged the Warrior Princess.
Autolycus hesitated only a moment before joining the fight.
"We really need to work on your timing," Auto said, dodging a sword and kicking the man in the stomach.
"Sorry, but this is urgent," Xena replied, grabbing the wrist of the sword-arm of a soldier and then spinning him around and using him like a puppet to fight off two other soldiers before kicking him in the back and sending him sprawling.
"What could be so urgent that you couldn't have waited until after I'd gotten away with the statue?" the thief inquired, grabbing the man he'd kicked and throwing him into a companion head-first.
"I need your help," Xena said, dropping the last of the soldiers with a kick to the face which sent him flying into a wall. "Happy?"
"Insanely," Auto grinned. "Shall we discuss my fee?" He let his eyes travel down her body as he twirled his mustache with a flourish.
"Your fee is I don't turn you over to the city watch for this attempted theft," Xena replied, as she grabbed him by the collar and lifted him off his feet. "They don't like thieves here. I understand they cut off a hand, brand them, and send them to a work camp on the island of Corcyra."
"Xena, Xena, you also need to learn how to take a joke," Auto said, smiling nervously.
"So do you," she replied with a wicked grin as she set him back down.
"What's the emergency?" he asked as the pair made their way out of the exhibition hall.
"I'll explain as we ride to Edom," she replied, casually stomping on the chest of the first soldier she'd knocked out as he started to groan and sit up. He dropped soundlessly to his back.
"You got a horse?" she asked, climbing onto Argo's saddle.
"I do now," Auto replied, spotting a stable at the end of the street. It was next to a blacksmith's shop, but there was no sign of the blacksmith or a stable-hand. "Unless you'd prefer I ride with you?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"Nice try. Get the horse, but see that you leave some dinars for it," Xena warned.
"You take all the fun, and profit, out of being a thief," Autolycus scowled, walking off.
A few minutes later he rode up on a dapple gray stallion. "What do you think? I call him `Overpriced piece of dogfood on the hoof.'"
"I think we need to get going," Xena said, kicking her heels into Argo's sides.
Auto kicked his heels into his horse's sides and the animal shot forward, nearly jumping out from under the thief in the process. He held on for dear life as the horse charged past Argo. "HELP!!!" he screamed.
Xena sighed and lashed Argo forward, quickly catching up to Auto's frightened steed and calming it down by grabbing the reins and soothing it by petting its nose and talking softly to it.
Autolycus clutched his chest, his brown eyes large as saucers. "I could use a little comforting, too," he panted, fearing his heart would burst from his chest at any moment.
"You should've told me you didn't know how to ride," Xena scolded, leading the stallion as Auto regained his composure.
"You never asked," the thief shrugged. "Besides, I figured `How hard can it be? You jump on a horse and hold on. No big deal.' You never told me about the kicking and pounding and how fast these things can go!"
"You never asked," Xena smiled.
"Hardy har, har. So, what's in Edom?" Auto asked, relaxing a bit, now that he wasn't actually controlling the horse.
"At the moment, Gabrielle and a mystery," she answered. "That's where you come in."
"Ooh, I love a challenge," he smirked, rubbing his hands together.
"Oh, yeah. There's also a warlord and his army. He also wants to solve the mystery," she added nonchalantly.
"Great. Okay, so what's this mystery I'm supposed to solve?"
Xena proceeded to tell him what the village elder had told her about the maze and the holy object somewhere in its twisting, trap-filled passages.
"You up to this challenge?" she asked when she'd finished, noticing his silence.
"I'm always up to any challenge, especially from you, Xena," he said, leering at her.
The warrior Princess just sighed and then suddenly urged Argo and the stallion forward, causing Autolycus to hang on for dear life. "Aw, come on, Xena! It was just a joke! Honest! Will you slow down, for the love of Zeus? Pleeeeeeease!!!"
After dinner, which the prisoners had to admit was delicious, they were escorted back up to the hallway and each was shown to their own private room. Naturally, a guard was posted outside of each and they were securely locked in for the night.
Or so the Germans thought.
Much later, as the guards slumbered in chairs outside the make-shift cells, one of the locks clicked and then the door slowly swung open. Dori cautiously peeked out and, seeing that the guards were still snoring away, she crept across the hall and quickly opened the door and slipped inside.
She tiptoed to the figure sleeping in the bed and suddenly clamped her hand over its mouth. "Quiet, sweetheart, it's just me," she whispered. "No screaming, okay?" She removed her hand and smiled.
"How...?" Melinda began, her blue eyes shining with curiosity.
"Just something that comes naturally," the dark-skinned woman shrugged. "Always has."
"Thank goodness for that!" Mel smiled. "I'll hurry and get dressed so we can get Janice and Jack and get of here before the Germans realize we've escaped." She quickly got up and got dressed. "Ready."
"Stay here while I get Janice and Jack," Dori instructed.
"You could have told me that before I rushed to get dressed," Mel huffed, sitting down on the bed.
"I know," the other woman grinned.
Dori, seeing that the Germans were still sleeping, stole to the next room over and quickly opened the door and slipped inside. She quietly made her way to the bed and moved to place her hand over the mouth of the figure sleeping in it. Suddenly, she was thrown onto the bed from behind and she felt a knee drive itself into the small of her back as two hands circled around her neck.
"It's me! Dori!" she gasped.
"Dori?" said Janice, releasing the woman and removing her knee. "Great work. Let's get Melinda and Jack and blow this sauerkraut stand before the Germans get wise!"
"I've already got Melinda ready to go," she informed her. "Stay here while I go get Jack."
"Right," Janice nodded.
Dori crept across the hall and within moments had picked the lock and was inside Jack's room. She quickly shut the door, wondering how he could manage to sleep through the sound of his own snoring, and padded over to where he lay sprawled across the bed.
"Jack?" she whispered, gently shaking him.
She reached over and placed one hand across his mouth and sharply pinched his arm with her other.
Jack gasped and then screamed into her hand as his eyes flew open.
"Quiet, ducks, it's me, Dori," she said, staring into his eyes until comprehension dawned. "Come on, we're leaving."
"What about Mel and Janice?" he asked, struggling into his shoes.
"Ready and waiting for us. All set?" she asked, peering out the door.
"All set," he replied, giving her a `thumbs up.'
The pair silently made their way out into the hallway and Dori retrieved the two women with soft taps on their doors.
As the three women made their way down the hall, Jack paused and tried to pry a machine gun loose from a slumbering guard.
"Leave that and come on!" Janice hissed, gesturing forcefully for him to follow them.
"I've almost got it," he whispered back, tugging on the strap.
Suddenly, the trigger caught on the guard's belt and the gun began to discharge, causing the three women to throw themselves onto the floor as bullets ripped over their heads.
Jack reached down and grabbed the gun. Trying to tear it loose from the man's belt, he jerked violently, freeing the weapon. But in the process, his finger became jammed in between the trigger and the stock, causing the gun to continue to fire wildly as he vainly tried to free his finger.
When the gun at least exhausted its clip and Jack finally managed to extricate his finger, he saw over a dozen machine guns aimed at himself and the three women. He immediately dropped the empty gun and meekly raised his hands.
Behind him, Janice, Melinda, and Isidora did likewise.
"I can see that my warnings were not enough," Colonel Angriefer sighed, entering the hallway wearing pajamas covered with swastikas. "Pity."
After spending the rest of the night handcuffed to their beds and securely gagged with a guard both inside the room and outside in hallway, the four prisoners made their way down to the dining hall for breakfast. Angriefer and Dinglehoffstederachtungiosky were already there, enjoying some freshly squeezed orange juice.
"I trust you all slept well," the SS officer smirked as they sat down.
"Like a log. Nothing like my own private Kraut night light to help me get a good night's sleep," Janice replied.
"I grow weary of your insults, Herr professor," the colonel sighed. "We are doing what we can to make this a pleasant experience for you."
"Oh, yeah, this has been almost like a vacation," Janice nodded. "Except for the kidnapping, getting slapped around, and the machine guns aimed at us, of course. Just like a day at Coney Island."
"Don't waste your breath on them, Herr colonel," the professor suddenly said. "Once my P.E.N.I.S. is fully operational, the world will tremble before its awesome power!"
Melinda's face immediately turned bright red while Jack almost choked on his sausage. Janice and Dori just smiled at each other.
"Perhaps it would be best if we didn't refer to the device by that particular acronym, Herr professor," Angriefer suggested, his own face reddening slightly.
"Eh? What do you...Gott im himmel!" he exclaimed, his eyes growing very large behind his owlish glasses as his own face started to glow with embarrassment. "Of course, Herr colonel. We shall simply call it a photon emitter when in mixed company. Forgive me, Frauleins, I didn't realize."
"Well, I never!" Melinda huffed, desperately wishing she had a fan. "I seem to have lost my appetite, so, if y'all will excuse me..."
"A moment, Fraulein," said Angriefer, removing the package which contained the Xena Scrolls from the briefcase beside his chair. He held them out to her. "I expect to see considerable progress by the end of the day. You may work in your room, the library, or anywhere else you choose. Just see that you work. Hans, here," he gestured to a strapping Aryan soldier who was standing at attention near the window, "will be your shadow. Where you go, he goes. He speaks very little English, but you should be able to convey
any needs you have to him."
"I speak excellent German, Colonel Angriefer," Melinda informed him, accepting the package and standing up. "So, we won't have any trouble communicating with each other." She left the room followed by the soldier.
"As for you, professor Lykken," he said, turning to the Egyptologist and removing an object wrapped in white cloth from his briefcase, "I trust you are ready to attempt the necessary ritual." He handed the object to her.
"As ready as I'll ever be, colonel," Dori sighed, unwrapping the bundle and revealing a gem-studded golden ankh. "But it's been years since I was taught those rituals, and I never thought I'd really get a chance to use them, so I'm not sure if I remember every word and gesture."
"The Third Reich will not accept excuses, professor Lykken," he replied coldly. "You will do as you are told or your father dies."
Dori nodded. "I said I'd do my best, colonel. That's all I can do."
"For your father's sake, I hope it's enough," he said, wiping his mouth with a napkin emblazoned with a swastika. "You two will accompany professor Lykken to the lab so that you can fully appreciate how invincible the Reich will be."
"Oh, goody," Janice scowled.
After breakfast, they were led down to a large room dominated by two things: 1) The professor's device--A large tube-shaped object which reminded Janice of the anti-aircraft guns on a ship as it had a seat in which the operator sat and was on a swiveling platform; and 2) The strange, disturbing, statue they had uncovered at the dig. She noted with amazement that it was still in pristine condition, although there were several drills, hammers, and saws lying next to it that were in anything but, having apparently been practically destroyed by the Nazis' efforts to make the slightest impact on the thing.
"What's that?" Dori asked, pointing toward the statue.
"A mystery, professor Lykken, but one which does not concern you. Ah, here is your subject," he smiled when two soldiers wheeled a cart into the room on which lay a figure beneath a white sheet.
"Is that...?" Jack began, gulping loudly.
"How else is the professor going to demonstrate the power of the ankh?" Angriefer replied, pulling the cloth back and revealing the pale face of an older man. "This was Major Schlitz, a valued member of the SS. You will resurrect him, professor Lykken. Now."
Dori nodded and held the ankh in front of her with both hands. As she started to chant in a language no one outside of her family had heard for over a thousand years, the gems on the ankh began to glow, flashing slowly in apparently random order. Then, as the chanting continued, the gems pulsed faster and faster, and brighter and brighter.
"This can't work, can it, Doc?" Jack whispered.
"A few months ago, I'd have said no," Janice replied. "Now, I'm not so sure."
Suddenly, all of the gems flared brightly and the electric lights in the room all exploded, plunging them into darkness.
"Where am I?" said a deep voice. But it clearly wasn't coming from the stretcher in front of them.
"Lights! Schlaff! Bring us lights!" Angriefer ordered. A moment later, the sergeant rushed in with several kerosene lamps and handed one to the colonel. Angriefer held the lamp over the body on the cart, but it was unchanged. Scowling, he held the light up to Isidora.
"Who are you people?" said the same deep voice.
As one, they all turned toward the statue and were horrified to see it looking at them.
"Gabrielle? Joxer? Cleopatra?" the statue questioned. "What's going on?"
Gabrielle found the people of Edom to be so peaceful, so serene, so...so irritating. `In recent times I thought it would be nice to find some place peaceful, but these people are taking it to the extremes!' the Bard thought to herself.
In the time since Xena had left her in the village to prepare them for the warlord's assault, she had helped a woman give birth and attended a funeral for a young boy who had fallen out of a tree and broke his neck. In both instances the people of the village had reacted the same way: With a quiet smile and acceptance.
When the child was born the elders proclaimed it to be a blessing of their God and when the child died it was God's will. It was driving the highly passionate Bard crazy. The villagers didn't cry, but they never laughed, either. Gabrielle tried to tell some of her stories, but after getting absolutely no reaction from her audience one way or another, she finally gave up on that and threw herself into teaching them how to fight with a staff.
Gabrielle managed to show some of the younger people in the village some new staff fighting techniques, and they were pretty good at it. But they showed no pleasure in their skills, or trepidation at the thought that they might soon have to use those skills.
The Bard was beginning to wish that Inimicles would attack just so she wouldn't die of boredom when she saw a young man of 13 summers running past her make shift training grounds with a look of excitement on his face.
"Someone actually has an emotion in this village?" she said with surprise. Following the boy, she reached the house of one of the elders of the village and heard voices inside.
"I bring news of Inimicles' camp! He has captured someone who knows Xena and Gabrielle! I heard the guards talking about a fool named Joxer!" the young boy inside blurted out to the Elder.
Gabrielle's blood ran cold at hearing this.
"How many times do I have to tell you, we do not get excited here. Everything progresses at God's will, so there is no reason to be emotional. You should not have snuck into the warlord's camp. If we were supposed to have known this information it would have been given to us. Now, I want you to go and practice being calm. Remember, the Lord has scripted out everything that is to happen in your life, so there is no reason to fear or worry," the Elder told the young boy.
Gabrielle did not wait to hear more. Grabbing up her staff, she ran out of the village in the direction that the young boy had come from. She had Joxer to save and no one better try and stop her. The few villagers who saw her leave just shook their heads at her haste and, smiling a placid smile, they went back to their daily tasks.
"Lord Inimicles, why do we wait to attack the village?" one of his officers, a man named Snake, asked.
"We wait because I don't want the item that I am after to be destroyed by those villagers to keep it from me!" Inimicles yelled at the officer. "My sources tell me that the item is in a maze guarded by traps and locks. I need someone who could get in, find the item and get out without the villagers knowing about it. After I have the item, then you may slaughter the villagers," Inimicles said with a gesture, dismissing him.
Joxer, hanging on his wooden X, watched as Inimicles paced back in forth in front of him. "It's a pity that Autolycus isn't here." Hearing Inimicles' pacing stop, Joxer realized that he had spoken that thought out loud. If he could have, he would have kicked himself.
"Ah, yes! The King of Thieves. I have heard that he also hangs out with the Warrior Princess. His services would be useful." Turning toward the bound Joxer, Inimicles hissed, "Where can I find him?"
"He usually hangs out at the XenaVerse complex on Mount Olympus," Joxer answered before he thought about it.
"Excellent! Then I will travel to this complex and tell Autolycus that if he ever wants to see his friend Joxer alive again, he will help me procure the item that I am after!"
"Um, maybe you better just tell him that you will pay him really well instead," Joxer mumbled to himself.
One of the soldiers suddenly entered the tent. "My Lord, we have a woman who claims she represents the villagers. She wants to talk to you."
Inimicles, stepping out from his tent, was presented with the sight of Gabrielle standing between two guards. "Who would you be, then?" he asked her.
To say that Gabrielle was stunned by the sight of her dead friend James dressed as a warlord would be putting it mildly, but, being a bard, she managed to hide her shock. "James?" she asked in a quiet voice.
"No. My name is Inimicles, but you are the second person to call me that name. Again I ask, who are you?"
"My name is...Mavis. Yes, that's my name. I have lived all of my life in the village and I do not want to see it destroyed and I was hoping that I could talk you out of attacking it. Maybe as a sign of your good faith, you could release any prisoners you had to me and then I could go back and talk the Elders into giving you what you want?"
Inimicles looked at Gabrielle for a moment and then smiled. "You are a liar, and not a very good one at that. Lived in the village all your life? The village was settled by Israelites. You are dressed in Greek Amazon clothing and the staff you are carrying declares you to be an Amazon queen. So, Queen Gabrielle of the Amazons, where is your friend Xena?"
Gabrielle, knowing that she could not bluff her way out of this one, decided to try and fight her way out. Swinging her staff, she caught the guards on either side of her completely off guard. `Which is a strange thing to be able to do to guards,' Gabrielle fleetingly thought. She managed to knock them out quickly and, turning her attention back to Inimicles, she saw that he had not moved a muscle, not even drawn his sword yet.
"Impressive, little queen, but what do you plan to do about me?" Inimicles asked in a polite voice.
Gabrielle immediately launched an all-out attack with her staff, but Inimicles merely blocked the blows with his arms and legs without effort. Then, with a loud yell, she ran toward him, planning to run up his body and then do the kick in the face move she'd practiced earlier. Inimicles just stood with his arms folded and waited till Gabrielle jumped into the air and then...stepped aside. Gabrielle sailed through the air, through the tent flap, and landed hard on her back knocking the wind out of her.
`The trees I practiced on never pulled that on me,' she thought. Looking up from the ground, the first sight that met her was Joxer hanging off the wooden X. The second sight was Inimicles' sword pointing at her nose.
"Hi, Gabby!" Joxer said to her.
Troya woke up in a camp in a beautiful clearing near a lake. Rolling over she saw the love of her life sitting on a log near the remains of a campfire.
"Isn't it beautiful here? I'm so happy that you brought me to this lovely place for a vacation. How long can we stay here?" she asked in a happy voice.
James, who had heard these exact same morning greetings for months felt a moment of irritation that evaporated the second he looked into Troya's eyes. "We can stay as long as you want, my love," he told her softly with a smile. Meanwhile thinking to himself, `What can I show her today that I haven't shown her 20 or 30 times already? Everyday is a new day for her, but I'm getting bored with the same thing everyday.'
Troya breathed a sigh of contentment and rolled over onto her back to watch the sunlight filtering through the trees.
Things had been a little awkward at first. Trying to carry on conversations that went from one day to the next that James remembered but she didn't. Dealing with her shock and sadness when she heard the thoughts of her friends thinking of her and she realized that she was now dead. Those were the times when the bard understood and appreciated the memory loss from day to day.
The first time that he left the Fields and traveled up in the outside world since Troya's death, he had felt so guilty and miserable that he didn't stay gone for long. But arriving back and finding out that she really did not even know that he had been gone made it easier. He was just about to make the day's suggestion on what to do, when he heard a voice that he hadn't heard for a while inside his head.
"Oh, James, I miss you, my friend, and I am in trouble up here. There is a warlord that looks exactly like you and he has captured Joxer and I. Xena went off to find Auto and the warlord is making preparations to go to the XenaVerse complex to find Auto himself. It's a mess! I wish you could help me somehow!"
Rising from the log that he had been sitting on, James walked over to where Troya was still daydreaming, looking up into the trees. Kneeling down, he took one of her hands in his and, kissing it, said softly, "My love, I just remembered that I told some of our friends that I would meet them today. I'll be gone for the day, but I promise that I'll be back
Troya frowned for a moment, but the magic of the Fields that kept someone from being unhappy for any length of time took effect and she just smiled. "Do you promise you will only be gone for one day?"
"I promise. You won't even remember that I was gone," he answered truthfully.
"I could go with you," she said with a pout.
"No, you stay and enjoy your vacation. Take a swim in the lake. You always enjoy that," he told her with a smile.
"How can I 'always enjoy that' when this is the first day we have been here?" Troya said with a look of confusion passing briefly over her face.
"I meant that you will enjoy taking a swim in that lake, of course. I'll be back soon." After giving her a kiss, he walked a short distance away and then willed himself to find Gabrielle and Joxer in the world of the living.
Gabrielle, tied to a wooden X beside Joxer's, opened her eyes from her silently talking to the spirit of her dead friend James and looked over at Joxer. "I thought you were supposed to warn the XenaVerse complex that Inimicles was in the area? How did you get back here so fast?"
"I did warn them! Everyone at the complex knows that Inimicles is near and are probably mounting a rescue party for us right now! Knowing how much you and Xena could use my expert help, I raced like the wind and got here fast," Joxer assured Gabrielle.
Gabrielle was about to tell Joxer that he couldn't even break wind fast when she heard the warlord about to enter the tent so she settled for giving a snort and rolling her eyes instead.
Inimicles strolled into the tent and, without even looking at his two captives, he went straight to the chest and started to pull out clothing. Without a thought of the two people watching him, he quickly stripped off his armor and warlord leathers and dressed in simple clothing of soft brown leather pants and a plain white shirt.
"Don't look, Gabrielle!" Joxer whispered urgently.
Gabrielle for her part just rolled her eyes at Joxer's attempt to protect her sense of propriety.
"Well, how do I look?" the warlord Inimicles asked his 'guests' as he turned around.
Gabrielle could not bring herself to speak. With his armor and fighting leathers replaced with more simple clothing, Inimicles looked even more like the late bard James.
"This should trick those fools at your XenaVerse complex into thinking that I am just another visitor and allow me to explore that place and find Autolycus without bringing any notice to myself," Inimicles said with satisfaction.
`Oh, yeah! Having someone who looks like someone who has been dead for months walking around should not attract any attention at all!' Gabrielle thought to herself. Noticing that Joxer was just about to speak, she quickly started talking in the hopes that Joxer would wise up and not mention the fact that James was dead. "What about us?" she asked.
"Don't worry. I still plan on using you as insurance in case Xena shows up and tries to stop me, so you're safe. I have given orders that you are to taken care of, and not to be molested or harmed. My men carry enough healthy fear of me that they will not disobey my orders." So saying, the warlord turned and left the tent.
Gabrielle allowed herself to slump down on the wooden X slightly. Oh, she wasn't worried. She knew that Xena would rescue her. Xena always rescued her. It was just that Xena would be angry at her for not staying at the village and she was getting bored hanging around.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw an image flicker for a moment. Turning her head, she thought for a moment that the warlord had returned, but this image was wearing different clothing than the warlord was when he left. This person was wearing clothing that looked like Ares' clothing. The person was quite solid looking and looked very much like James did right when he died. The person walked over till he was standing directly in front of her, with his head cocked sadly to the side. "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, can't you stay out of trouble for more than several heartbeats?"
"James, is that you? I mean really you this time? How come I can hear and see you?" Gabrielle asked in an excited voice.
Joxer hanging over on his cross, looked where Gabrielle was looking and talking to and saw and heard nothing. `Poor Gabby! The pressure was too much for her! She's snapped!' he thought to himself.
"You can see me and hear me?" James asked Gabrielle. "It must have been the time my spirit spent inside your body the last adventure we had together. We're linked somehow. I can hear your thoughts, even when you're not thinking of me, and you can see and hear me."
"This is great!" Gabrielle said with an enthusiasm which quickly died. "But what can you do to help us?" she added.
Joxer, watching Gabrielle closely, thought to himself, `Oh, yeah. She's lost it big time! One scroll short of a satchel. She's got splinters in the staff of her mind!'
Later that night, Gabrielle was resting as well as could be expected being chained to a wooden X. So far, the warlord Inimicles was correct in that his soldiers treated her and Joxer well. They unchained them to eat and take care of personal business, although never at the same time. Always keeping one chained to insure the other behaved.
The Bard was surprised by how few soldiers there actually were in the camp 'till she heard one guard talking to another and found out that Inimicles had split his army into small units and spread them around to guard the village and make sure that the villagers did not manage to sneak his prize away under his nose.
With night fallen, Gabrielle only heard the occasional sounds of a patrol passing outside the tent. Sighing, she once again tried to find some comfortable angle to hang from, so she could go back to sleep. Joxer's snoring did not help Gabrielle's rest in the least either. The spirit of James had promised to help somehow, but then he disappeared in mid-afternoon and Gabrielle had not seen or heard him since then.
Suddenly, Gabrielle jerked wide awake at the sounds of someone stumbling toward the tent. It was not the quiet steps of the sentries but the shambling steps of someone either drunk or highly drugged. She managed to hold in a squeak of fear when she saw, silhouetted by the moonlight, the tent flap slowly open and a large figure enter the tent.
The interior of the tent was pitch black--No sense wasting light on captives--but the person who entered went straight to the table at the center without falling and lit a small lamp that was sitting on it. When the figure turned from the table Gabrielle almost felt like sobbing. It was one of the dirtiest and smelliest of the guards that had fed them earlier and his sneaking into the tent at this late hour could only have one meaning. Gabrielle prepared herself to fight as well as she could, chained to the X, but she was determined that, no matter what, the soldier was going to pay for his fun.
She watched as the man moved closer to where she was chained. Something was wrong. His eyes were open, but they had a glazed look in them. He'd been drinking was her first thought. Gabrielle almost screamed when a second head suddenly seemed to sprout out of the top of his. It was the spirit of her good friend James.
"Shh. Be quiet! I can only control this body until he wakes up. Lucky for me this guy not only drank himself unconscious, but he smells so bad his fellow soldiers make him sleep on the far side of the camp, away from everyone else. Do you know where the keys to these locks are?"
Gabrielle quietly nodded her head. "The guards who fed us took them with them. How are you going to get us free?"
The spirit head of James frowned. "Well, this guy's hands are a little ham fisted for such delicate work, but let's see if this trick that I learned from Auto will work." So saying, James sank back fully into the body of the soldier and the soldier's hands undid the buckle on his belt and using the wire from the buckle started to pick the locks on Gabrielle's chains.
Joxer, turning his head in his sleep, jarred himself enough that he woke up, and the sight of a dirty soldier with his belt undone kneeling in front of Gabrielle was more than he could take.
"Get away from her! You slimy son of a harpy!" he shouted.
"Joxer, be quiet! It's James inside the soldier's body! He's trying to pick the locks on our chains!" Gabrielle hissed urgently.
The soldier stopped his work and started to blink rapidly as he began to wake up.
Feeling his control over the man slipping away, James used all of his concentration and made him walk slightly to the side and then made him smash his head against Gabrielle's X, once again knocking him back out.
"Oh, poor Gabby! You have really snapped, haven't you. James is dead and gone. He's not coming back to help," Joxer informed her in a low voice.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at Joxer and turned her head back to look down at the soldier's body as it rose shakily to it's feet. "Are you okay, James?"
"Yeah. The blow knocked out the soldier again, but I'm feeling the pain. I'll have a headache until I can get out of this body," he told Gabrielle in the soldier's voice.
Giving a glare to the stunned, and thankfully now silent Joxer, James started to work on the locks once again.
Buffy was carrying a crock that contained the latest shipment of fine olive oil up from where the deliveries were made to the kitchen of Pegasus Pizza when she suddenly dropped the crock she was carrying and let out a little scream.
Julie, who was right behind her, immediately said, "I'm not cleaning that up! You dropped it, you clean up." Getting no argument from Buffy, Julie looked over Buffy's shoulder and gave a little scream of her own.
Just getting down from a horse in the courtyard was the dead bard James.
Buffy paused for a moment, wondering if she should make a run for it or grab James in a big welcome home hug. Finally, she decided on a cautious hello. "James! Back again?" she asked in a reasonably calm voice.
The man who got off the horse looked around briefly before he realized that there was no one else present and that she was talking to him. The warlord Inimicles had not survived for such a long time by being slow or stupid.
"Yeah. I'm back. I've got to find Autolycus. Do you know where he is?"
"So formal. Not even a hello? And what's wrong with your voice? It sounds a little gravelly," Buffy mock frowned.
"Sorry, but it's an emergency. Do you know where he is?" Inimicles said, trying to smooth out his voice.
"I haven't seen him in a while, but you might try the Pun-N-Pub Party Palace. If he's here, you can bet that's where he'll be," Buffy said with a real frown now. The James she had known had always been very polite and smiling. This James seemed cold and acted like this was the first time he had ever been here. `Oh, well, I guess coming back from the dead can change a person,' she thought to herself.
She and Julie watched as James, after a moment of searching, found the entrance to the main part of the complex and went in. Turning, she found Julie watching her. "I am still not cleaning up that mess!" Julie said, pointing at the smashed crockery.
Inimicles had searched most of the complex quietly and had found no one. `Where is everyone in this place?' he thought to himself.
Trying one more door in a long line of doors, he was surprised when it was suddenly jerked open by a lovely woman wearing very little clothing.
"James! You're back again!" the woman squealed as she jerked him into the room and flung him into a hot tub filled with people.
Inimicles was trying to decide if he just wanted to cut the woman open or just drown her in the pool when he came up from the bottom of the hot tub spitting water. The sight of literally dozens of Amazon women lounging around and in the hot tub made him reconsider his options. Inimicles respected Amazon warriors. They were fierce fighters and they did not worship Ares. So they had his respect.
"I'm sorry, but I'm looking for Autolycus. It's an emergency!" Inimicles sputtered to Lissla.
"Auto? He's been gone for about two weeks. Said something about 'Lucy in the sky with diamonds.'" Lissla spoke in a rush as she raced around the room giving everyone drinks.
"Not `Lucy in the sky with diamonds.' It was `Goosey in the sky with diamonds,'" an Amazon beside Inimicles in the pool spoke up.
"Not a goosey. It was something about a swan. And it wasn't diamonds in the sky. It was diamonds in its eyes," spoke yet another Amazon warrior, sitting on the edge of the hot tub.
"Oh, Lyrica. That doesn't make any sense at all," Lissla scolded the woman warrior as she passed by.
Inimicles had had enough. "I have to go! I need to get back!"
"You mean you have to return so soon?" Lissla said sadly. "I was hoping that Hades would let you stay longer this time. By the way, how is Troya?"
Inimicles, realizing that he had no idea what the people in the room were talking about, and that if he said anything he might reveal that he was not James, just got up from the tub and ran out of the room.
"Well! I guess that being dead doesn't do anything for your manners!" Lissla huffed at the door as it closed.
Inimicles made his way down to his horse and, mounting it quickly, he raced away from the complex. `Those people are crazy!' he thought to himself as he rode away.
Waking up, James rolled over and kissed Troya awake. "Good morning, my Love," he tenderly said to her.
"James, behave yourself. We have company remember?"
Laughing a little, James sat up and looked across the campsite to where Xena and Gabrielle were. Well, Gabrielle was still in her bedroll asleep. The Warrior Princess had already went to the lake for an early morning bath.
"This is such a lovely place for a vacation. I'm glad that you brought me here. And isn't it great that Xena and Gabrielle decided to join us?"
James spent a few moments trying to remember when Xena and Gabrielle joined he and Troya on their vacation, but when a feeling of perfect peace came over him, he realized that it was not important and promptly forgot about it.
James turned to answer Troya when he felt a sudden pull, as if someone had a rope tied to him and gave it a mighty jerk, and everything went black.
Opening his eyes, all James could see was darkness. He was just about to call out for Troya when he heard a strange voice yelling for someone to get some lights.
"Where am I?" James asked.
When a light flared, he watched as someone brought in an odd looking lantern and handed it to another man wearing a strange uniform.
"Who are you people?" the confused bard inquired.
When everyone whirled around to look at him, James saw some familiar faces among the strangers. "Gabrielle? Joxer? Cleopatra? What's going on?"
The man wearing the strange looking uniform quickly set the lantern down on a bed like thing that was near him and, reaching under his left arm, pulled something out and pointed it at James.
"Whatever you are, don't move!" he commanded.
James started to raise his hands, to show that he was not armed and, with a sudden motion, the man did something with the object in his hand. There was a loud bang and the bard felt a brief sting on his forehead where something small had hit it.
Continuing to raise his hand, James rubbed at his forehead. "Don't do that," he replied mildly. He looked at his hand in the dim light and saw that it was golden metal. "I'm back in my metal body?" With a flash, James remembered everything. Hephaestos building the metal body. The battle with Velasca where he lost the metal body. The fight with a warlord named Inimicles. All the happy times and the sad times. The moment of his second (or was it his third?) death. And, the final meeting with Hades where he said that James was going to the Fields. This time to stay.
"Where am I?" James asked the woman who looked like Gabrielle. The woman was standing frozen with shock and did not answer. Taking a step forward, James heard a noise coming from behind the man in the uniform. Looking over his shoulder, the bard saw a strange little man with large round pieces of glass over his eyes.
"Mein Gott! It's attacking!" he squeaked in a high voice.
Several things happened very rapidly in the next few moments:
The man with the large glasses ran over to a strange object that had lots of glass tubes all over it;
Gabrielle, Joxer, and Cleopatra stepped quickly to one side and the man in the uniform continued to look first at the object in his hand and then at James with his mouth hanging open; and
The man with the glasses threw himself into a seat on the side of the object and a second later a bright red beam lanced out of the object and hit James fully in the chest.
The bard felt a slight impact, as though hit in the chest by one of Velasca's lightning bolts. Although a very weak one. The red beam hit him and split into several different beams that blasted holes in the walls. From the flashes of red light bouncing off his body, James could see Gabrielle, Joxer and Cleopatra running for cover under the tables in the room.
"Not enough power!" the little man with the glasses yelled and flipped several switches on the side of the object.
With a high pitched whine, the red beam increased in intensity and James was forced a few steps back. The beams that bounced off his chest continued to blow holes in the walls and ceiling. He watched as the man with the uniform ran to some steps leading up and, with several others, charged up the stairs and was gone.
With a final piercing sound like a wounded animal, the object blew up and threw the little man clear across the room to land near the steps and he, too, ran out.
James started to head toward the steps himself when he heard Joxer yell out for help. Looking over, in the dim light of the lanterns, he could see Gabrielle, Cleopatra and Joxer had taken refuge under a large table and that several large stones had fallen from the ceiling to land on the table pinning them under it. He started toward them when he heard a loud cracking noise and, looking up, he saw a support beam start to break above them. Racing over, he reached up and held the beam up, to keep it from falling.
"Joxer! Get them out of here while I hold this," he yelled to the man who looked his friend.
"The name is Jack, not Joxer!" The man started to argue, but seeing several large rocks fall, he added, "But that's not important right now! Ladies, this way out!" He scrambled out from under the table and led the women to the stairs.
"What about you?" Gabrielle in the strange clothing yelled to James.
"Don't worry about me. There is almost nothing that can harm me. If the whole of this building falls on me, I will just dig my way out and meet you on the outside."
The young woman with the strange hat looked like she was going to argue some more but hearing a woman's scream from the rooms above, she nodded and ran up the stairs and was gone.
With a loud snap, as though the very spine of the building had broken, the ceiling gave way and came crashing down on him and for the second time that day everything went black.
Even in his terror to escape the monster which the Egyptologist had brought to life, Colonel Angriefer had the presence of mind to grab the ankh from the woman' numb hands before bolting for the stairs. Schlaff and the guards were right behind him. And, a moment later, after the prototype exploded, Dr. Dinglehoffstederachtungiosky joined them, right before the roof fell in, burying the lab in tons of rock.
Hearing Frau Pappas scream, the SS officer rushed into the study just in time to witness poor Hans' crushed body fall through an enormous crack in the floor. Apparently a large chunk of the ceiling had broken loose and fallen on him, weakening the floor from above, even as the laser had weakened it from below. Then, Angriefer noted with alarm that both the ceiling and the floor had large, ominous cracks spreading through them.
"Frau Pappas, there is no time to argue, take my hand and let's get out of here," he said, extending one hand, while holding onto the door frame with the other. Bits of masonry dropped to the floor between the two people.
"Where are my friends?" the frightened woman demanded, glancing down at the expanding fissures at her feet.
"They're safe, Fraulein. Now, give me your hand, and don't forget the scrolls!" he commanded. "Hurry! Or you will join Hans."
Melinda hesitated, looking about for some other way out of the room, besides dropping down into the blackness which had claimed her guard. Then, when she felt bits of rubble fall on her head, she looked up and saw a huge chunk of the ceiling tearing loose right over her. She leaped out of the way just in time and managed to grab the colonel's outstretched hand as the roof crashed into the floor, causing the latter to literally drop out from under her feet.
Angriefer grunted as he found his arm supporting Mel's entire weight. "Hang on, Fraulein, and I'll pull you up," he said through tightly gritted teeth. "Schlaff! Some assistance, mach schnell!"
Melinda looked over her shoulder and saw nothing but a yawning blackness. She tucked the precious scrolls down her top and grabbed the colonel's wrist with her other hand.
He looked down and nodded. "Smart, Fraulein. Now, hold on tightly and I'll pull you up. Schlaff!!" Then, he felt a hand on his shoulder. "It's about time, dummkopf!"
"That's no way to talk to a lady, colonel," Janice said evenly in his ear. "Hang on, or you'll be following her, Angriefer. Understand?" The colonel nodded. "Okay, Mel, we're bringing you up. Just relax and let me do all the work. Like always," she added with a slight smile.
Melinda looked up and smiled back.
Janice reached around and grabbed hold of Mel's arm and began to haul her up and, with the colonel's help, a few moments later the Southern belle was standing next to them. She threw her arms around the blonde and hugged her tightly. "All right, all right. We don't have time for this right now, Mel," Janice growled good-naturedly. "Jack and Dori are guarding Schlaff and the rest of Angriefer's goons and we need to get out of here before this whole building falls on top of us. Come on, colonel."
Angriefer suddenly whipped his gun out and aimed it at the two women. "I think not, Herr professor," he said snidely. He grabbed Mel and pulled her to him and then edged around Janice. "I'm sorry that I can't risk bringing you with me, but I fear Frau Pappas will prove enough of a handful." He viciously lashed out and struck Janice across the forehead with the barrel of his Lugar.
"NOOO!!!!" screamed Mel as her friend toppled over the edge and disappeared into the darkness below. "You monster!"
"Unfortunately, Fraulein, I am not the only monster in the castle. Let's hurry before it escapes and finds us," he said, forcing her forward.
"What are you talking about?" she questioned. "What monster?"
"I'll explain later, Fraulein. Ah, here are your companions," he smiled, seeing Jack and Dori, the former nervously holding a machine gun on Schlaff and four of his men. "Drop the gun, Herr Kleinman, or Frau Pappas dies." He stepped into view and placed the Lugar to Mel's temple. "Now."
Jack looked over at Dori, who shrugged, and then reluctantly dropped the gun. "Where's the Doc?" he asked as Schlaff and the soldiers quickly aimed their own guns at he and Isidora.
"He pushed her into the basement!" Mel exclaimed, close to tears.
"Professor Lykken will be coming with us, but I'm afraid that you, Herr Kleinman, have outlived your usefulness. Schlaff," he said, nodding.
"No! Kill him and I'll refuse to translate the scrolls. Then, what will you tell your Fuhrer. He won't be happy to learn you've failed him twice," Mel pointed out.
"Very well, Fraulein," he smiled. "I can be a reasonable man." He gestured to the sergeant and Schlaff struck Jack across the back of the head with the butt of his gun, sending him sprawling on the ground. "You see?" Mel and Dori both glared at him. "Now, then, we've wasted enough time here and I still don't trust this thing not to collapse further. Shall we go?"
Suddenly, Dori leaped away, handspringing head over heels, and out of the room. By the time the Germans had raised their guns and fired, she was long gone.
"Leave her!" Angriefer ordered when the soldiers started after her. Hearing the groans of the castle, he looked up. "I have the ankh, let's get out of here."
He drug Mel out to the truck and was surprised to find the professor sitting in the cab and quietly sobbing. "My poor P.E.N.I.S. It's gone. Destroyed. Exploded. It wasn't powerful enough!" he wailed.
"No time to cry over spilled milk, Herr professor," Angriefer said, forcing Mel into the cab. He gunned the truck's motor, as the other soldiers climbed into the other two trucks and did the same, and then slammed it into gear and the three vehicles rumbled off into the night.
Behind them, with a final, deep groan, the castle fell in on itself and Mel screamed as the dust from its destruction rose into the moonless sky.
As Autolycus and Xena rode along towards the village of Edom, the thief, trying to make conversation, asked, "So, how did you track me down, anyway?"
"It wasn't hard. I just checked with all your usual fences and learned that you'd been inquiring what you could get for a golden swan," Xena replied. "After that, it was easy to figure out your target."
"I'm gonna have to learn to keep my big mouth shut in the future," Auto scowled. "Or find some less talkative fences."
"Well, they didn't really have much choice, so don't be too angry with them," she said.
"You and that damn pinch! Would it hurt you to just trick information out of people, or use some other, less violent, method to learn what you want?" he asked.
"I was in a hurry," Xena shrugged. "I'm worried about leaving Gabrielle in that village with a bloodthirsty warlord camped nearby."
"Gabrielle's not a little girl anymore, Xena, not by a long shot," he added, his eyes sort of glazing over. She looked back at him and loudly cleared her throat. "Huh? Oh, yeah. My point is that she can take care of herself with that staff of hers."
"You didn't see her practicing on a tree the other day," the Warrior Princess chuckled. "But you're right, she can take care of herself. It's just that Inimicles is such a wild card, I'm not sure how patient he'll be. He might just torch the village if they keep defying him. He's done it before. Quite a few times."
"But you said those were towns loyal to Ares," Auto pointed out. "Edom certainly isn't one of the Wargod's holdings."
"That's true. And, it's the only thing which gives me hope that he won't decide to simply kill everyone and take what he wants," she nodded.
"Any idea what this `holy object' is?" he asked.
Xena shook her head and the pair rode on in silence.
Joxer watched suspiciously as the guard finished picking the locks that held him to the wooden X. Gabrielle, whom he had released first, was searching the tent looking for her staff. The guard stepped back from Joxer and, walking stiff-legged, went over to the side of the tent and laid down and did not move again, except for the rising and falling of his chest, showing that he was still alive.
"That is really weird," Joxer whispered to Gabrielle. "Why did the guard release us and then just go to sleep?"
"I told you, Joxer. That was James, inside the body of the guard, who released us while the guard was knocked out," Gabrielle replied quietly as she continued to search.
"James is dead and gone. The guard must've just been really drunk? Yeah, that's it. He was drunk and he unchained us to do something horrible to us and then he passed out from fright at my manliness," Joxer proclaimed in a whisper to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle let out a loud snort and rolled her eyes. "Joxer, we need to find my staff and get out of here."
"Don't forget my sword and my hand pounded armor!" Joxer whispered as he moved to help Gabrielle search.
"Yeah, we can't forget your armor, can we?" Gabrielle whispered sarcastically. She suddenly stopped her searching and looked at the entrance of the tent. "James says he knows where they stored our stuff. Come on," she whispered as she grabbed Joxer's arm and dragged him toward the tent flap.
Gabrielle lead Joxer along a twisty path through the camp, stopping every once in a while as though she was listening to someone. Joxer noticed that when she would stop and pause for a moment in the shadows, a patrol would pass by, missing them in the dark. `Boy, she sure has learned a lot from Xena,' Joxer thought to himself.
Reaching one tent that looked like all the rest, Gabrielle turned to him. "James says that this is a weapon supply tent and that our stuff is inside. Let's get them and go." So saying, she ducked into the tent without pause. Joxer waited frozen for a moment, just knowing that he was about to hear some soldiers yelling after being woke up by Gabrielle diving into their tent. After another heartbeat, Gabrielle's head poked out of the tent. "Are you going to help me look for our stuff or not?" Joxer ducked into the tent and found that it was indeed nothing more than a storage tent for weapons.
"How did you know that this was the right tent?" he asked as he started searching by hand for his sword and armor.
"I told you. James knew where it was," Gabrielle whispered angrily. Joxer started to retort back again that James was not here when his hand hit the chest plate of his armor. Searching further, he quickly found his helmet, his sword and Gabrielle's staff.
"Here's your staff and my armor. I'll be just a second getting my armor and helmet on."
Gabrielle grabbed his arm. "James says that if we try to leave this camp with you wearing your armor, we won't get more than several yards before we're caught again. Here, wrap your armor in these bags and put it in this big bag that I found and carry it out of here on your back!"
"Hey, that's pretty smart! You're good at thinking these things through, even if you are delusional at the moment," Joxer replied as he quickly shoved his armor and helmet into a bag.
Gabrielle, standing at the tent flap, looking out, whispered, "I'm going to have to smack him one in a minute."
She was startled when she heard James, who knew that no one else could hear him, laugh out loud.
Weaving through the woods, past patrols with James' guidance, they made good time. Gabrielle was glad for the fact that in the total darkness of the forest, James, at least to her eyes, glowed slightly.
"Watch out for that tree root," James told her. Gabrielle carefully stepped over the root and repeated the warning to Joxer.
Splat! Clank! Joxer tripped over the root and landed face first.
"Joxer! Be careful!" she whispered to him as she helped him up.
"I don't understand why we have to go this route. There is a perfect path just a few yards over," Joxer complained, pointing to the side where the path was.
Gabrielle looked to where the spirit of James was floating. "James says that the path has strings run across it with bells attached and that there is a patrol of Inimicles coming this way. We have to go this way and we have to be quiet!" she whispered urgently to Joxer.
"I'm tired of this fantasy of yours, Gabrielle. I'm going to use the path," Joxer said as he headed toward the path in question.
Gabrielle hesitated for a slight moment and then conked Joxer over the head with her staff.
James quickly entered Joxer's body and moved it quietly further into the woods with Gabrielle following.
A few moments later, they heard as a large patrol of Inimicles' men passed by. Gabrielle waited till the soldiers were well gone and then whispered, "Is Joxer all right?"
"He's fine. Just knocked out. Let's see if we can get to the village before he wakes up," James told her using Joxer's voice.
With him now controlling Joxer's body, they slipped through the forest as quiet as two ghosts.
Arriving at the village gates, Gabrielle stopped and then slowly slid down the gate tiredly. She watched as James, inside of Joxer's body, walked up to the gate and lowered himself into a sitting position.
"I wonder when the village opens it's gates? Or if they will open the gates with Inimicles' army around here?" he asked her.
"Oh, don't worry. They'll open the gates in a little while. I don't think they'd change the pattern of their lives, even if Inimicles was standing here right now," Gabrielle said, slightly slurring her words.
"Poor Gabrielle! You must be exhausted. Take a nap here and I'll keep watch. I'll leave Joxer's body and take a look around in spirit form and make sure that we're safe."
Gabrielle could only nod once before she fell asleep.
Early the next morning, when Xena and Autolycus rode up to the gates of the village, a strange sight greeted them. Gabrielle was sitting just to the side of the gate and beside her, with his arm around her shoulders, was Joxer. They both appeared to be asleep.
"Just what in Hades' name is going on here?" Xena asked Autolycus, who was sitting on his horse next to her.
Autolycus just raised his eyebrow and shrugged. Clearing his throat loudly, he watched as Gabrielle started to wake. "Guess we'll find out."
Gabrielle stretched and, when she did, she moved out from under Joxer's arm, causing him to fall over and wake up.
Joxer, seeing Xena and Autolycus sitting on horses in front of him, leaped to his feet. "Hi, Xena. Autolycus. Poor Gabrielle is exhausted. I had to rescue her from Inimicles' clutches."
Gabrielle, coming fully awake, yelled, "What?!?"
"I'm afraid the strain was too much for her, though. She keeps claiming that she sees the spirit of James floating around talking to her," Joxer finished sadly.
Xena and Auto looked first at Joxer and then at a fuming Gabrielle. Finally, the King of Thieves spoke. "So, I take it James is back again?"
Gabrielle, still too angry to talk, just nodded her head.
Xena jumped off of Argo and moved over to Gabrielle. "I also take it that Joxer got caught by Inimicles and that you went to rescue him and got caught yourself?"
This time Gabrielle blushed as she nodded.
Auto picked up where Xena left off. "And, with James' help, you and Joxer managed to get away and that you just made it back to the village?"
Gabrielle nodded again. "Where is James anyway? He said that he was going to look over the area and make sure we were safe here."
Joxer was just about to open his mouth and explain to Gabrielle, Xena and Autolycus that James could not possibly be around when Gabrielle suddenly stiffened and asked empty air, "Where have you been?"
Auto, looking at the empty space Gabrielle was addressing, asked, "You can see and hear him now?"
Gabrielle distractedly replied, "Yeah. We think it's because he was in my body for a while before he got his metal body."
"What does James have to say?" Auto asked her.
"He says that there's something really strange about the center of this village. He was looking around and felt something try to drag him into the ground and capture him. That's the reason he wasn't around. He's been fighting it to get away all this time and only just managed to escape now."
Joxer looked at Gabrielle, then Autolycus, and finally at Xena. "Am I the only one around here who's sane?" he asked out loud.
A few minutes after the Germans left the room, Isidora rushed in and grabbed Jack's unconscious body and dragged him out of the castle. She exited out a side door, thereby avoiding the Nazis as they piled into their trucks in the front, and laid him down in the cool grass and gently shook him awake.
Jack blinked and opened his eyes when the trucks' motors roared to life. "What about the Doc?" he asked, slowly sitting up and rubbing the goose egg on the back of his head.
Dori shook her head. "I couldn't get to her. If only I had a grappling hook..." she sighed.
"And Mel?" he inquired.
"The Nazis took her, and the ankh, and the scrolls," Dori added.
"This is all my fault," Jack groaned.
"Yeah, I'd have to agree with that," she nodded. "So, what are you gonna do about it?"
"The first thing I'm going to do is go back in there and find the Doc," he said, struggling to his feet.
Suddenly, the entire castle collapsed and the pair heard Mel's scream echoing in the night as the trucks drove away.
"What's the second thing you're going to do?" Dori asked, placing a hand on the man's slumping shoulders.
Janice groaned and put a hand to her forehead and felt sticky moisture. She pulled a kerchief from a pocket and wound it around her skull and then retrieved her fedora and placed it firmly on her head to hold the makeshift bandage in place. When she tried to stand up, she realized that the fall must have either sprained or broken her ankle and she dropped back down onto the pile of debris, gritting her teeth in pain. Then, from the light cast by the burning remains of the professor's machine, she spotted several papers lying on the pile near her. She picked one up and instantly recognized Mel's delicate, frilly handwriting. Realizing that these were the notes she'd made to herself as she worked to translate the Xena Scrolls, Janice collected them and stuffed them down her shirt.
Then, she cast about, looking for a sturdy piece of wood to use as a crutch, but all of the beams were too thick and too long. When the machine sputtered and popped as the flames engulfed it, she suddenly remembered that there were a number of broken picks and shovels lying near it that had been destroyed trying to damage the strange statue that she could use as a crutch, if she could make it over to them.
As she began to slide down the pile, a golden hand suddenly burst out of it right next to her head. She probably would have screamed right then were it not for the fact that a second later the head of the thing erupted between her legs. "Gabrielle?" it said, and Janice could have sworn it was actually blushing as its other hand emerged and covered its eyes.
"Not exactly," Janice said, doing her best to scoot up so that she could close her legs. "I'm her descendant, Janice Covington."
"I'm James. I'm...I was a friend of your ancestor's," he explained, pulling himself out of the debris pile. "I'm not sure what I'm doing here, wherever and whenever here is, but if I can help, you need only ask."
"Thanks, James. I think the thing to do at the moment is get out of here before the rest of this castle drops onto our heads," she replied.
"Too late, Janice!" he exclaimed, reaching around and grabbing the surprised archaeologist and lowering her into the hole his exit had just made and then lying over the top of it just as the castle did in fact collapse. "You should be all right in there, and I won't even feel it."
"What's that body made of and how did you get it in the first place?" Janice asked, cringing at the sound of tons of rocks and debris crashing down onto the statue above her.
"That's sort of a long story," James replied, and, even though Janice couldn't see his face in the blackness, she was sure it was smiling.
"I think we've got time while you dig us out of here," she returned, smiling as well. "Why don't you fill me in?"
"Okay. But just remember that I'm not making this up, no matter how fantastic it sounds," he said, listening to make sure that nothing else was falling before beginning to carefully dig his way out. "It all started when Strife cut my Thread of Life...Or did it begin long before that? Well, let's just say, for the sake of argument, and because every story has to begin somewhere, that that's when it started. Since Strife isn't the God in charge of cutting Life Threads..."
"Jack, staying around here isn't doing us or Melinda any good!" Dori exclaimed, ducking another rock. "And I'm sorry, but Dr. Covington is beyond helping."
"You don't know the Doc like I do," he replied, tossing another rock over his shoulder as he frantically tried to dig Janice out with his bare hands. "She's a survivor."
"No one could have survived this, Jack! We've got to think about the living. About Melinda and my father. They need us, Janice doesn't," Dori pointed out, circling around in front of the distressed man and forcing his face to look at her. His bloodshot eyes, still wet with fresh tears, blinked furiously and his mouth was twisted into a grim scowl. "She's beyond needing anything or anyone. Let her go. Worry about the people you can help."
Jack nodded and let the rock in his hand fall from his numb, bleeding fingers. It bounced down the side of the pile that was all that remained of the castle and came to rest near the bottom. Suddenly, a golden hand shot out of the debris, knocking the rock away. A few minutes later, moving very carefully on hands and knees, shielding the familiar figure of the blonde archaeologist beneath him, the odd statue crawled out and helped Janice to her feet--Well, to her one good foot; the right.
Jack promptly passed out.
James finished brushing off the remaining rock dust off of himself and looked over to where what could only be the descendant of Joxer lay on the ground out cold. The woman standing beside him with her mouth hanging open was a dead ringer for Cleopatra. "Something the matter?" he asked her with a hint of humor in his voice.
"No. We're used to metal men digging their way out from under the ruins of a Nazi castle everyday. Isn't everyone?" she replied with sarcasm.
He chuckled and replied, "You remind me of a certain sneaky thief I used to know."
James turned to check the condition of Gabrielle's descendant, Janice, and missed the hopeful look that crossed Dori's face, but he could hear it in her voice. "You knew Autolycus, the King of Thieves?"
"Yes, along with Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer, he was one of my best friends," he replied, bending down on one knee to check Janice's left foot. Pulling off her boot, he gently probed around her ankle and noticed her grimace of pain. "I'm afraid that it's badly sprained."
"Can't you just point your finger and heal it instantly?" she asked hopefully.
"No, I'm your usual, normal, run-of the-mill metal man. Indestructible, but not able to heal people instantly. Sorry. "
"Oh great! Then what good are you?" Janice said with a smile to show she was kidding.
"I was taught basic healing by one of the greatest healers of Greece, though. Xena said that I was an excellent student. We need to wrap your foot tightly and keep you off of it as much as we can," he said looking for something to wrap her foot with. Seeing some bright red cloth laying on the pile of rubble, James got up off of his knee and walked over to pick it up. It was obviously some kind of flag as it was still attached to a pole. It was bright red with a white circle in the middle with a funny looking symbol in black inside the circle. Quickly ripping it into strips, he said, "This will do to wrap it. Pity we don't have any cold water to soak your foot in to reduce the swelling."
"Hurry. Just wrap it so we can get after those Nazis. They have Mel and there's no telling where they've taken her!" Janice said with a look of worry on her face.
In the background he could see the other woman sat holding Joxer's descendant's head off of the ground and lightly slapping his face to bring him around. "We have to go after the Nazis holding my father! Now that they think that I was killed in the castle's collapse they'll kill him as being useless to them!" She glared at him. Softening the look on her face, she said, "By the way, my name is Dori and the pillar of strength in my lap is Jack."
James nodded and went back to work on Janice's ankle. "Do you know where they're holding your father?" he asked Dori without looking up from his work.
"Yeah. He's in a small house about 20 kilometers from here."
James shook his head at the strange term and asked her, "If we can find some kind of transportation for you, how long will it take you to reach the house?"
"Less than a hour."
Janice put her hand on his shoulder. "We need to rescue Mel! The Nazis wanted her to translate the Xena Scrolls for some reason. Do you know what they could be looking for?"
"First off, who is Mel?" he asked Janice, putting the finishing touches on her ankle wrapping.
"She's the descendant of Xena."
"Then I would think that it would be the Nazis that need rescuing," he said with a grin.
"No, you don't understand. She may be Xena's descendant, but she's not like Xena. She's a fairly innocent woman that has lived a sheltered life. She doesn't know how to fight. She lives for translating old scrolls and studying books," Janice said, her voice taking on a pleading note.
"Okay. We need to rescue Mel," James said, raising his hands in a calming gesture. "Now, who or what are these Nazis?"
Janice would have paced back and forth if her foot didn't hurt so much. "They’re a ruthless band of bullies who follow a mad man who wants to rule the world." She paused for a moment. "They're an army that's following a warlord," she simplified for his benefit.
"Gotcha! Been there, dealt with that kind before! And you say they're after something mentioned in Gabrielle's scrolls?"
Janice nodded her head. "Do you know what it could be?"
"Hmm, let’s see…Hind's blood? Not unless they want to kill a God. Poseidon's trident? That could be useful to sink ships. No, that was hid in a place where they could never get it and I don't think that Gabrielle wrote about that adventure anyway. Aphrodite's mirror? Nah. I don't think these Nazis are interested in learning who their soul mates are," he said as he paced back and forth. "There were so many dangerous things that Xena and Gabrielle came across. Can't you give me some hint?"
Janice started to shake her head and then she remembered the notes that she had stuffed inside her shirt. Reaching into her shirt she said, "I think something in here might give you some ideas."
She was so busy trying to find the notes, she missed James' raised eyebrow.
Dori and the finally awakened Jack went to explore an old shack that was still standing next to where the castle used to be.
"Aha, found it!" Janice proclaimed triumphantly and handed over Mel's notes.
Glancing at the notes which were written in a language that he could not read, James started to hand them back, but his eye caught a word that was still in it's original Greek: Edom. The name of the village where Xena, Autolycus, Gabrielle, and he had once faced the warlord Inimicles.
"If they go after the relic that was housed in Edom, we are indeed in trouble!" he said worriedly.
"Do you know where this relic is now?" Janice asked.
"Yeah, I was with Xena and Gabrielle when they hid it for safe keeping."
Dori and Jack returned pushing a strange looking object with three wheels. It had two wheels in a line and a kind of box with one wheel attached to the side.
"We found this German motorcycle with a side car in the shack over there," Jack said as he walked a wide strip around the metal man.
"Good! You and Dori take the 'motorcycle' and go and rescue her father. Janice and I will go after Mel and the Nazis," James said, looking around.
"What are we going to use for transportation, then?" Janice asked impatiently.
With a smile, James swept Janice up into his arms. "Did I mention that I can run as fast as a horse and I don't get tired?" he asked with a wink. "Just one thing before we go. Do you know where the Amazon lands are from here?" Janice frowned and shook her head. "How about the village of Amphipolis?"
At this question, Janice smiled and said, "That I do know." Glancing up at the sun she thought for a moment. "It's in that direction but it's a long way off." She pointed East.
James called out to Dori as she mounted the motorcycle with Jack in the side car, "We'll rescue Mel and meet up with you guys at Amphipolis. May the Gods smile upon you."
Then, with a roar from the motorcycle and a sprint from James, they were off in different directions, both trying to rescue someone important to them.
As Autolycus and Xena were talking to Gabrielle and Joxer, the gate opened and the village Elder invited them inside. "This is Autolycus, the man who's going to retrieve the holy object from the maze," Xena said.
"What can you tell me about this maze and what sorts of things I might expect?" Auto inquired, looking about the village and wondering how these people could possess anything of value to anyone.
"All we know is that there are puzzles of logic and traps of skill to be overcome before reaching the prize," he replied, the same blank expression on his face that he always had.
"Logic puzzles?" the thief scowled. "You didn't say anything about logic puzzles." He glanced at Xena.
"I love logic puzzles!" Gabrielle said suddenly. "And, I'm very good at them. I'll go with Autolycus."
"No, it's too dangerous," Xena said, shaking her head.
"And staying here to confront Inimicles and his army isn't?" the Bard shot back. "Look, getting this holy object away from here is the only chance these people have, and I know I can be more useful if I help Auto, than if I stay up here."
"You've got a point," Xena nodded.
"I just wish it wasn't on your head," Autolycus mumbled. "Hey! What about James? If he comes, too, he can scope out the physical dangers for us at least."
Gabrielle stared at empty space for a moment. "He says he's not sure. Something below the village tried to capture him and he's not sure if he can resist it a second time," she relayed.
The Elder looked suspiciously at Gabrielle. "This James you spoke to, is he a shade or spirit?" She nodded. "Then, he cannot enter the maze, for it has been warded against spirits of any kind. Should he attempt to enter, he will be bound in the warding glyph for all of time."
"There goes that idea," Auto frowned.
"How was James able to help you and Joxer escape, Gabrielle?" Xena suddenly asked.
"He possessed the body of a drunken guard," she replied, ignoring Joxer's incredulous look.
"I thought as much," the Warrior Princess nodded, smiling. "I've got an idea how we can use James' unique talents to stall Inimicles until you two can get the object." She quickly related her plan. "Does James think he can do it?"
"He sees no reason why it shouldn't work," Gabrielle replied after a moment.
Xena smiled wolfishly while Joxer looked from one of his friends to the other, trying to figure out if maybe he wasn't the crazy one, after all.
The village Elder lead Autolycus and Gabrielle to a statue of a seated man at the center of the village at one end of a fancy, tiled town square. In one hand the statue held a scroll, in the other a shepherd's staff. The old man turned to Autolycus and Gabrielle as he reached up for the staff. "Are you sure you want to do this? There's no way out once you enter, save successfully negotiating the maze and emerging with its prize," he added.
"This is the only chance your people have," Gabrielle replied. "We're ready."
"Yeah, what she said," Autolycus scowled.
"Very well," he pulled on the shepherd's crook and a panel slid away, revealing a stone staircase which descended into darkness. "Good luck. May the One God bless your journey and bring you safely home, if that is his will."
Auto and Gab looked at each other. "He just had to add that last bit, didn't he?" growled the thief. Gabrielle shrugged and they both lit their torches and entered the tunnel.
As soon as they reached the bottom of the stairs, the panel above them slid closed with an ominous click.
"What's that?" Autolycus asked, shining the light of his torch on some unusual scratchings in the stone wall near the stairs. "Instructions, I hope."
"No, it must be the warding glyph the Elder told us about," Gabrielle said thoughtfully, lightly brushing the strange markings with her fingers.
"Hey! Should you be touching that?" the thief yelped.
"It can't hurt me, just spirits and shades," she laughed.
"You never know when it comes to strangers," he replied. "My motto is: Better safe than dead."
Gabrielle just laughed and started down the passageway.
"Why don't you let me lead the way, Gabrielle?" he suggested. "After all, I am..." He looked to the blonde expectantly.
"The King of Thieves," the Bard said.
"Exactly. When I find a logic puzzle, I'll let you solve it," he assured her, taking the lead. "But in the meantime, let me be on the lookout for traps and--AAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!" He jumped back as a shining blade dropped from the roof and swung across the corridor.
"Like that?" Gabrielle asked innocently, trying very hard not to laugh.
Autolycus glared at her as he clutched his wildly beating heart. "Yeah, like that. Now, shut up--If you can--and let me concentrate," he hissed.
He carefully examined the floor with a gloved hand and grunted with satisfaction. "A pressure plate," he announced, pressing a stone in the center of the passage with his hand. The silver blade swung silently across the corridor. "I would've noticed it if you hadn't been yakking. Just keep to the sides and it's easy to get by."
"I suspect the rest of the traps won't be as easily detected, or avoided," Gabrielle said as she carefully bypassed the trigger stone.
Autolycus nodded and the pair cautiously made their way deeper into the maze, guided by the flickering light of their sputtering torches.
Janice once again marveled at the metal man James as he ran carrying her without a trace of strain, his quick strides eating miles and miles of distance without slowing or tiring. `I should be bouncing up and down being carried like this at this speed,' she thought to herself. `But the only motion I feel is a gentle rocking, as though I were on a ship in the ocean.'
Feeling Janice's tense muscles start to relax, James glanced down at the lovely woman being carried in his arms and asked her, "Are you doing all right?"
"Fine. The motion of your running reminds me of an ocean voyage. It's surprisingly relaxing." Janice smiled as she relaxed more into his arms, although she wondered about the strange smile that appeared on James' face with that comment and suddenly realized that she was wasting a golden opportunity to actually talk to someone who knew Xena and, oh, yeah, Gabrielle. "Would it bother you if I were to ask you a few questions while you ran?"
"No, not at all. I would doubt that you were really Gabrielle's descendant if you didn't," James replied with a bigger smile.
She was going to ask him about Xena, but, to her surprise, when she opened her mouth the words that came out were, "What was my ancestor Gabrielle like?"
"Appearance-wise, you look exactly like her. Although she favored wearing Amazon clothing that left her legs, arms, and abs exposed to the air."
Janice glanced down at her mannish clothing. "How else am I different than her?"
James actually laughed. "Well, for one thing, Gabrielle hated boats with a passion. She would certainly not have thought of an ocean voyage as relaxing. As matter of fact, Gabrielle would have probably already thrown up on me from all of this swaying back in forth."
"I've often wondered why Xena would have put up with an annoying side-kick like Gabrielle," Janice said with a frown. Then, she noticed immediately that James' running rhythm changed and that he swerved off of the road into the forest. `Did I say something wrong?' she thought to herself worriedly as James stopped behind a large tree. She searched the face of the metal man closely and was about to ask him what was wrong when she heard the sound of a truck rumbling down the road they were just on.
James remained still a few moments after the truck passed by and then, with a slight nod, he said, "It's clear now. Oh, and by the way, Gabrielle was not an annoying side-kick. She was a true partner to Xena. She could fight as well as most men could, but she just chose not to take a life if she could help it. Gabrielle was Queen of the Amazons and during her time people traveled over half of the countryside whenever it was just rumored that she might be storytelling at a local tavern that night!"
Janice noticed that faint frown lines of anger appeared on the metal forehead of James. "I didn't mean anything about what I said. It's just that in all of the legends about Xena, rarely, if ever, did they mention Gabrielle," she said, raising her hands in a calming gesture.
Returning to the road, James once again started to run. "That's because the scrolls that were written about Xena were written by Gabrielle, and another of Gabrielle's virtues was the fact that she was extremely modest. She always said that the story was not about her but about how Xena turned her life around. She and Xena used to argue about the fact that Gabrielle never took credit for what she did but only stressed what Xena had done. In her own way she was as incredible a woman as Xena was." James' voice carried his emotions strongly to the young archaeologist.
"You were in love with her." Janice's voice made the question a statement. She watched as James' surprisingly expressive metal face frowned and she thought for a moment that he was going to deny it.
"Everyone who met, and spent any time with, Gabrielle fell in love with her, but the smart ones realized that there was and only could be one true love in Gabrielle's life."
Janice started to ask who that love was, but, with a yelp, she tightened her hold around James' neck as he suddenly leapt to the side of the road and quickly hid behind another tree. She listened as several large trucks, and what sounded like three or four motorcycles, roared by.
"Do you think that the Nazis will get the relic before we can get there?" she asked worriedly.
She was surprised when a large smile broke out on James' face. "I just remembered something about where Xena and Gabrielle hid it. That German officer should have taken you along with Mel."
"Why?" Janice asked with a frown.
"Because only someone who is an Amazon Queen or the descendant of one can get to where it is hidden."
"Then, we have to get there first, so we can use it to trade for Mel's life! If the Germans find its hiding place, and discover they can't get to it, they might hurt Mel!" Janice's voice rose with fear.
James smile faded and, nodding, he regained the road and started to run again.
Pulling to a sudden stop at the foot of a bridge awoke Janice from where she had fallen asleep in James' arms. "What's wrong?" she asked sleepily.
"Nothing. We've arrived at Amphipolis."
Janice looked and saw a bridge over a river and off in the distance a quiet, small town with a few lights shining in the windows. "How do you know that this is Amphipolis?" she asked James.
"Because of that," James said as he lowered the young woman to her feet and pointed to the side of the bridge.
Janice wobbled a little on her feet because her legs had gone to sleep on the long journey and, peering in the moonlight, she could make out a large statue of a lion on a pedestal. "Oh, the Lion of Amphipolis! It is said that it was built in honor of a son of Amphipolis. Some of the possibilities it was built for include Nearchos, Alexander the Great's admiral, Androsthenes, and Laomedon." Janice was startled by a loud snort from James.
"I told that stupid sculptor that he should make it a female lion and not a male one, but would he listen to me? No! It had to be a male lion because if he made a female one, somebody might mistake it for a panther. Well, you got your male lion and now no one knows who it was even supposed to represent!" James barked at the silent statue.
Janice looked at the statue on its pedestal and then looked back at James. "You mean..."
"Exactly. The lion was a tribute from the grateful people of Amphipolis to Xena. There should be another statue on the right side of the bridge, too. It was an eagle with a scroll in its beak," James said sadly.
"For Gabrielle. Right?"
"How do you know this?" Janice asked as she examined in the moonlight the right side of the bridge for any signs that a statue used to stand there.
"I helped Hercules, Iolaus, Joxer, and Autolycus to place them here. We did it in secret while Xena and Gabrielle were off somewhere else. Xena didn't like the idea of anyone building her monuments. She never believed that she deserved them," James said as he walked over to the lion. "The sculptor was handpicked by a friend of ours named Salmoneus. He even sold the marble to the people of Amphipolis at a ridiculously low rate for the statues. I was surprised when it didn't melt in the first rain storm."
"How did Xena react when she saw it?" Janice asked curiously.
"She liked the idea of the eagle for Gabrielle but she threatened to tie Argo to the lion and have her pull it over. It was only when Gabrielle begged her to leave it that she relented. And now only Xena's lion is left standing and no one remembers who it was for."
Janice watched as James bowed his head and let it rest on one of the lion's forepaws for a moment.
"We need to get you some food and me something to cover my metal form with so we don't attract attention tomorrow," James said as he straightened back up once again.
"I'm all right! We need to get to the hidden temple and retrieve the relic before the Nazis do," Janice said, right before her stomach growled loudly.
In the moonlight she could see a smile appear on James' face.
"It's nice to see you share something with your ancestor. You need food and proper rest. It won't do you any good to get to our destination and be so tired or hungry that you can't do anything. Besides, it will take time for your Mel to translate the scrolls and even longer for her to figure out the references Gabrielle gave for the location of Artemis' secret temple where the object is hidden. Now we are going in to the town of Amphipolis and get you something to eat and then you are going to sleep till dawn."
Janice finally nodded at James' insistence and started to cross the bridge, but stopped with a grimace as her left foot pained her. She felt herself swept off her feet once again as James picked her up and silently carried her over the bridge into the sleeping modern town of Amphipolis.
As Isidora drove the motorcycle through the Grecian countryside, her face a grim mask of determination, Jack asked, "We don't have any weapons, how do you intend to rescue your father?"
"Check under your seat," she responded gruffly.
Jack's hands explored the area beneath the low seat of the sidecar and felt something cold and hard. His fingers closed around it and he brought it out so he could see exactly what it was. "A machine gun," he yelped, remembering the last time he'd held one.
"Don't worry, the safety's on this one," Dori grinned, as if reading his thoughts. "And there's an extra clip in the pocket to your left."
"So," he said, removing the clip, "are we just going to go in there, gun blazing, and kill them all?"
"I hope it won't come to that," the woman replied. "But if that's what I have to do to save my father, then that's what I'll do, by God."
"Where's your mother?" Jack asked, holding tightly to the gun and the ammunition clip.
"Heaven, or maybe the Elysian Fields," she replied with a slight laugh.
"I'm sorry," he said solemnly. "I know what it's like to lose someone you love."
"She died when I was 14," Dori continued, looking down at Jack and nodding to let him know she appreciated his efforts to comfort her. "It was stupid. A senseless accident. But at least it was quick. She didn't suffer, the doctor told us. Unfortunately, father did. He blamed himself, and, to some extent, he even blamed me. She'd gone to the store to pick up something for me--Funny, you'd think I'd remember every detail of that day, but I don't--when it happened. Father died a little that day, too. And, I guess I did as well, only I didn't realize it until many years later. Anyway, father turned in on himself, shutting me, and everyone else out of his life, trying to deal with the pain on his own, living in the past in a way. And, so did I. Not my past, not exactly, but mother's past. That's when I became obsessed with proving the claim that mother and I were the last living Ptolemys. Father had no idea that he was married to Cleopatra's descendant, or that his wife practiced sacred rituals and passed them on to their daughter. And, after mother's death, he wouldn't listen when I tried to explain it to him. He called it nonsense and told me to get out if his name and heritage weren't good enough for me."
Jack saw that Dori was crying as she pushed the motorcycle harder and harder, whipping around corners with wild abandon, as the tears were snatched from her eyes. He cautiously laid a hand on her thigh and she looked over and smiled and slowed the bike down.
"So, I went to London, and then to Bonn, and never looked back. This is my first time in Greece since I left for London almost 10 years ago," she said. "I wasn't even planning on seeing my father. Just give my lecture and return to my flat in London. I probably would have done it, too, if not for these damn Nazis. Now, they've left me no choice. I can't just abandon my father. I can't do to him what he did to me, not if it means his death."
"Maybe you should thank them for making you realize that, at least, before you blow them to pieces," Jack added quickly when Dori glared at him. "Or not. Your call."
"Who did you lose?" she asked, seeking to change the subject.
"Oh, uh, well, it wasn't so much a `who' as a `what,'" he began, swallowing nervously. "I had this turtle when I was little. His name was Sparky. At least, I think it was a he. I never bothered to check. Anyway, one day I woke up and discovered that he was gone."
"Died, huh?" Dori asked.
"No. Well, eventually, of course, but I can't be sure because I never found him," Jack explained. "He was just missing. It really broke me up. Until I got a puppy. Now, Pal's death really devastated me."
"I'm sure it did. Oh, look. We're here. Guess that story will have to wait for another time," she said, trying to sound disappointed as she cut the motorcycle's engine and let it coast to a stop behind a nearby bush. She stood up and held out her hands. "Give me the gun and the clip, Jack."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," he replied, exiting the sidecar, still holding firmly to the items in question.
"Do you know how to use one of those?" she asked pointedly.
"Not really. I suppose you do?" he questioned.
"I know how to shoot a gun. That's one thing my father and I did together growing up: Hunt. So, give me the gun. Now," she said sternly.
Jack gulped and reluctantly handed over the gun and the clip. "What's the plan?" he asked, watching as Dori familiarized herself with the weapon.
"I need you to create a distraction while I sneak in the back door."
"How can you be so sure the house has a back door?" Jack asked.
"Because I grew up in it," she answered, flipping the safety off. "Let's get this over with so we can join Dr. Covington and that living fossil. I've got some questions for our metal friend. Ready?"
Jack nodded. "I guess so."
Jack walked up to the German soldier on guard in front of the house, staring intently at a map he'd found in the pocket of the sidecar and mumbling to himself in his French accent.
"Halt! This area is verboten," the soldier warned, raising his gun.
"Eh?" Jack looked up and feigned surprise. "Oh, pardon moi, monsieur. I am looking for the Naousa hot springs. According to my map, this is where they are located."
"Let me see that map," the German growled, snatching it from Jack. "I've never heard of any hot springs around here. Dummkopf! This is a map of Germany, not Greece!"
"This isn't Germany?" Jack asked innocently.
Meanwhile, as Jack and the soldier continued to argue, Dori snuck around to the back of the house and quickly opened the back door using the key her father always kept hidden beneath the planter on the back porch. A wave of memories flooded into her mind as she entered the home of her childhood and she saw her mother standing at the stove, cooking breakfast for them while her father prepared for work and little Isidora gathered her things for school. Then, the scene shifted and it was her mother teaching her the sacred rituals of the Pharaohs in the pre-dawn hours while father slept on unawares. Another change. This time it was her father, sitting at the small table and finishing off another bottle of ouzo. She was there, trying to reason with him, to get through to him, to simply have some sort of two-way dialogue with him, but he ignored her younger self. Finally, she saw herself leaving for London. Her bags were stacked near the back door and she was hoping her father would at least say goodbye and wish her well, but he never even came down from his room. The taxi arrived and she and the driver loaded her things and she left. She wondered then, as she wondered now, if he had even noticed the fresh flowers she'd placed in mother's favorite vase and left on the table.
Then, her reminisces were cut short by the sound of the German in the house yelling at his partner outside to keep quiet. She was about to creep into the next room when she suddenly noticed the vase, sitting exactly where she left it, filled with fresh flowers. She smiled and wiped away a tear and then continued into the next room, staying low.
She could just barely make out Jack and the soldier really going at it out on the front porch and waited until the German in the living room, a big brute with cold gray eyes and a square chin, finally stood up and threw open the door.
"Was is going on out here?" he demanded.
"This idiotic Frenchman thinks he's in Germany!" his partner exclaimed.
"Well, if this isn't Germany, peut-etre you can explain why I've seen so many Germans, hmmm?" Jack questioned.
"Go away, little man, before I forget my manners and put a bullet in what little brain you've got," snarled the second German. He raised his gun threateningly, but just then Dori smashed the butt of her weapon into the back of his head, knocking him forward and into his partner.
Jack stepped aside and watched as the two men tumbled down the stairs and onto the grass. Neither got up.
"Tie them up," Dori said, tossing him a couple of extension cords. "I'll see to my father."
Jack nodded and she ducked inside. "Father?" she called. She rushed to the door of his bedroom and threw it open. An old man, much older than she remembered, lay in the familiar, but empty-looking, bed, his white hair little more than a memory itself, although his beard had grown in quite nicely. He opened his dark eyes and looked up.
"Come to kill me at last, have you?" he asked, seeing only the silhouette of a gun-carrying figure in the doorway. "I'm not afraid to die, you filth. I died a long time ago, in fact. So, go ahead and end my mockery of an existence. I welcome your bullets."
"Father," Dori said, turning on the light, "it's me, Isidora. You're safe now. I've rescued you."
"What'd you go and do a damn fool thing like that for?" he demanded, getting out of bed. "You could have been killed!"
"Because I love you, papa," she replied softly.
"I don't want it. I don't deserve it," he added quietly.
"That's the wonderful thing about love, it's incapable of discriminating between who deserves it and who doesn't," she smiled, walking forward and taking his hand and squeezing it affectionately. "You must go to Uncle Otis', and wait there until I send word that it's safe for you to return here."
"And you, what will you do?" he inquired, squeezing her hand in kind.
"I've got to meet up with some friends and finish what I started here," she replied. "Come on, there's someone I want you to meet."
Jack looked up and saw Dori standing in the front doorway with an old man in plain pajamas. "Jack Kleinman, this is Gregory Lykken, my father," she said. "Jack is one of the friends I mentioned, father."
"You take good care of her, son," the old man scolded, walking down the steps and grunting with satisfaction at the sight of his former guards trussed up like pigs going to market.
"I will, sir," Jack promised, extending his hand.
Gregory shook it and then looked over to where Dori was relieving the unconscious men of any guns and ammunition. "I'll see you when all this is over, Dori. I look forward-"
"No, father, you won't," Dori said suddenly. "You won't ever see me again. I won't put myself through it a second time. I've returned the gift of life you once gave me, and I've never stopped loving you, but I won't give you the chance to hurt me again. Come on, Jack."
She turned and walked toward where the motorcycle stood waiting for them without looking back. Jack frowned, looking from her to her father, and then shrugged and ran to catch up to her. She stopped when she reached the bike and asked softly, "Would you mind driving to Amphipolis?"
"Not at all," he replied, climbing onto the motorcycle as she settled into the sidecar. "You all right?"
"Yeah. It's funny. I've been afraid of him for ten years. Afraid to confront him. Afraid he'd hurt me again. But after seeing him again, I realize the only power he has to hurt me is the power I give him to do so. And, I'll never give him that power again," she said with quiet determination. "Never."
Jack gunned the engine to life and they roared off, leaving Gregory standing in his front yard, feeling like he should care that he wouldn't be seeing his daughter again, but when it came right down to it, he didn't. Not really. So, he went back inside, packed his things, and hopped in his old truck and drove over to his brother's house.
When they asked who'd helped him escape, he told them it was two strangers.
As Inimicles rode past his patrols to his camp he realized that there was something wrong. There were far fewer sentries than there should have been.
Pulling his horse to a savage stop just outside of his tent, he dismounted and started yelling for his lieutenant, the man named Snake whom he had left in charge.
Snake came running from one of the tents and skidded to a halt in front of his commander. "Sir! You're back earlier than we expected."
Inimicles said nothing but just looked his second over with a critical eye. The man was sweating profusely and had a definite nervous twitch on his face.
Inimicles allowed his voice to lower to a friendly volume and plastered a smile on his face. All of which caused the man Snake to sweat and twitch even more. "What's wrong, Snake? You seem nervous."
"Uh, I'm sorry, really sorry, to have to report that your guests seem to have managed to escape last night," Snake said, almost shaking in fright.
"I see. Any other good news?" Inimicles said with a dangerous velvety voice.
"They managed to not only sneak out of camp but recover their weapons from the storage tent, and our sentries near the village have said that they have met up with the warrior woman Xena and a man dressed in green and are now in the village of Edom." Snake's voice had sped up and then gotten quieter as he finished, till the last was said in a quick whisper.
Snake could see a vein throbbing in his commander's forehead and he almost leapt back as Inimicles made a quick twist of his head. Snake could hear a tense bone pop in Inimicles' neck.
"Anything else?" Inimicles asked.
"Um, when our sentries heard that the female bard and that clown Joxer managed to slip through all our patrols and make it to the village without being seen, some of them deserted rather than face your wrath," Snake added while mentally wondering if he had a coin to give Charon for the boat ride across the river Styx.
Inimicles' body nearly hummed with anger but with a visible effort he brought it under control. "Snake, gather my men, those still in camp that is. And send word to my other forces around the village of Edom. We attack this afternoon! I want nothing left alive in that village by nightfall!"
Snake was so grateful to still be living that he started to run off to carry out Inimicles' orders but was halted when Inimicles grabbed him by the throat and pulled him to within inches of the warlord's face. "I mean nothing left alive in that village! Not even dogs, chickens or insects when we're through! Do you understand?" Inimicles shouted into
"Yes, my lord! What about the item you have been searching for all this time?" Snake asked knowing that he was really pushing his luck.
"After everyone is dead in the village I will bring in slaves from other villages and tear that place apart brick by brick until I find what I am looking for," Inimicles snarled as he released Snake. "Now, go!"
Joxer was running to report to Xena at the front gate when he tripped over a small rock in his way and landed face first directly in front of her. Getting up, he dusted himself off and peeked up to see the Warrior Princess shaking her head at him.
"I checked all the walls of the village. I think we're as ready as we can be. Maybe Inimicles won't attack today and we'll have one more day for Auto and Gabby to find that holy item and get it out of the village?" he asked hopefully.
"Maybe. But I like to be prepared just in case. From what I've heard about Inimicles, he's going to go off the deep end when he finds out that you and Gabrielle managed to escape from his camp. He'll take it as a personal insult," Xena said as she scanned the forest.
"Yeah, it's a pity that he doesn't act like who he looks like," Joxer said as he joined Xena in watching the forest nervously.
"What do you mean?" Xena sharply turned and looked at Joxer.
"Didn't me and Gabby get a chance to tell you? He looks exactly like James does, ah did. Well, you know what I mean."
"No, neither one of you mentioned it. Do you remember the plan, Joxer? Take the blow gun and when you see someone who looks like he's in charge of Inimicles' army shoot him with the sleeping darts," Xena instructed the would-be warrior.
"Right! I remember. What do you take me for, a fool?" Joxer asked. "I'll go to the other side of the village and wait," he finished, deciding it was better to make his exit before Xena had a chance to answer his question. Starting to turn he stopped when Xena called out his name and pointed at the blowgun and the darts laying on the ground.
"Heh, heh. The blowgun and the darts. Right." Grabbing them up, he ran off.
It was barely a few minutes after Joxer left that Xena heard the yelling and roaring of many men and saw Inimicles' forces charging out of the forest toward the village of Edom. Throwing her chakram, she cut a rope that was holding a tree standing up at the edge of the forest line. As the tree fell it jerked a rope that was tied to it through some low limbs up, causing the rope to suddenly appear at riders height thus sweeping the first riders off of their horses. Xena watched as a man rode up and cursed the men laying on the ground and ordered them back on their horses.
Lifting a blowgun, she took careful aim and, with a mighty breath, she fired. The man slapped his hand over his neck and swayed for a moment like he was going to fall, then he suddenly sat upright once again and yelled at the men to regain their horses and ride around the village. The men on the ground and those still on horseback looked around in confusion and started to argue.
The man who had just rode up and been shot by Xena with the sleeping dart raised his voice and yelled out, "Inimicles has discovered that one of his lieutenants has decided to raid the village and take his prize for himself. We are now ordered to go around the village and attack the other forces under the command of that lieutenant. Any of you lot that want to argue about it, take it up with Inimicles. Inimicles also told me to tell you that the one who brings him the head of that lieutenant will receive 300 dinars."
With that news, the soldiers of Inimicles immediately leaped on their horse and rode around the village of Edom to attack their comrades on the other side of the village. The man who gave the orders sat back and waited till the men were gone and then moved his horse till he was staring down at Xena.
"Xena," the man said.
"James. How you been since the last time?" Xena said with a large smile, leaning on the wall.
James, inside the sleeping lieutenant's body, smiled and said, "Oh, not bad. Wish we could talk a little longer but I guess I better ditch this body and go to the other side of the village and convince them that they need to fight their comrades."
"Yeah. Just make sure you don't get too close to the village so that thing in the middle doesn't get you!" Xena warned him.
The man on horseback nodded and stiffened for a moment and then fell off his horse. Xena caught the body and lowered it to the ground where it lay snoring gently.
Joxer had been nervously waiting and was thinking about going to check to see if Xena needed his help when he heard the roar and the thundering of Inimicles' horsemen approaching. Looking over the wall, he watched as a man wearing crude makeshift armor with a large snake on his helmet rode up and started giving orders to the other men on how to breach the walls. Joxer took careful aim with the blowgun, all the while praying to whatever God was listening that he would not miss, and he fired. He watched as the man with the snake on his helmet grabbed his arm and started to sway. Joxer watched as the man fell off his horse. As some of the other soldiers dismounted to check on the man, Joxer heard and then saw a large group of soldiers ride around the edge of the village walls and start to attack the group that was milling around.
Suddenly, the man who had been lying on the ground leaped up and started yelling that one of Inimicles' lieutenants had betrayed them and to attack the other soldiers. Within moments, the overwhelming forces that would have crushed the village were fighting among themselves while Joxer watched unbelieving from his spot on the wall. Looking back into the village, Joxer shook his head at the villagers who acted as if they didn't even hear or care about the sounds of battle that was drifting over the wall of their village and continued to go about their daily tasks as if nothing was going on.
Deciding to report to Xena, Joxer started to climb down the ladder he was on when he caught his hand on something. Looking up, he saw that he had stuck himself with one of the sleeping darts that had rolled out of the bag that they were in. As everything started to go black for Joxer and he felt himself start to fall off of the ladder he hoped that it wouldn't hurt too much when he broke his neck.
Seeing that the forces of Inimicles were totally occupied with fighting among themselves, James decided to look and see if he could find Inimicles. Freeing himself from the body of one of Inimicles' lieutenants, he started to drift off to look for him when he saw Joxer start to fall off of a ladder. Racing forward, he entered his body and caught the rungs of the ladder with his hands. Lowering Joxer down off of the ladder, he started to leave Joxer's body, but stopped as he felt a force grab hold of him and start to drag him toward the center of the village. Remaining in Joxer's body did not help. The force just dragged Joxer's body along with him.
Strolling through the village of Amphipolis, with Gabrielle's descendant, Janice, in his arms, James felt an odd sense of familiar and, at the same time, strangeness. He had visited the home town of Xena many times and had actually lived there for a few weeks while the sculptor put his finishing touches on the 'Lion of Amphipolis' and the 'Eagle of Poteidaea'. The river and the surrounding forest were still the same as he remembered them, but everything else was, of course, different. For example, while there was indeed a bridge over the river, this one was made of metal and much larger than the old stone and wood one he had crossed so many times before.
Traveling through the strange and yet familiar village, James paused where his instincts told him Xena's mother's tavern once stood and, with surprise, he noticed that it was now a very fancy looking building with a lot of vehicles in front of it.
"I am not staying in that hotel!" Janice, who was still in his arms, blurted out.
"You know. They're like...taverns. You pay to stay the night there."
"Ah, I understand. Why not? You need to get some sleep and food."
In answer, Janice just pointed at some of the vehicles that were sitting in front of the building. Looking more closely in the moonlight, James could see that a number of them had small flags on them that looked like the one that had been on the castle.
"Nazis?" he asked.
"Nazis!" Janice nodded.
Wandering through the village, they eventually found a farmhouse on the edge of town that looked to be abandoned. Looking inside the living quarters of the farm, it appeared that whoever had lived there had moved out quite suddenly, but had still managed to take everything with them. Moving toward the back of the farmhouse, the pair found a barn that still had hay and some chickens in it. After placing Janice down gently on the hay, James went back outside of the barn to a well that he had spotted on the way in and drew a bucket of water. Bringing it back in, he started to clear a spot inside the barn of all hay till he had a clear, circular spot. Breaking a few boards from the side of the barn, he piled them in the center of the cleared spot and then, striking his hands together above the wood, he caused a spark and soon had a roaring fire going.
Janice watched everything that the metal man James did closely and with a growing curiosity. When he struck his hands together and started the fire she almost jumped but managed to remain sitting still as though she saw someone start a fire like that everyday. She watched as he got up and, going over to where the chickens were roosting, pulled several eggs out from under the hens. He then walked back over to the fire and sat down crossed legged. Putting the eggs down carefully beside him, he then cupped his hands and plunged them into the water bucket. Bringing his hands out of the water bucket, Janice then gave a sharp hiss of breath in shock as James then held his cupped hands over the fire.
"Are you out of your mind?" She finally could not contain herself any longer.
"Nope. Just drop the eggs into the water when it starts to boil and in a short time you will have boiled eggs to eat," James grinned at her.
Janice continued to stare at James' seemingly unconcerned air as the water trapped in his hands started to bubble and boil.
"Unless, of course. you wanted fried eggs? In which case I could lay down over the fire and you could fry the eggs on my back," James told her in a serious voice.
When Janice jerked back in alarm at his suggestion, James could not help but laugh. "Just kidding."
"Th-th-that doesn't hurt?" she asked in a hoarse whisper.
"No, I can turn the feelings of my body off and on when I need to. It comes in handy at times."
Janice shook her head and carefully dropped the eggs into James' steaming hands.
After eating the eggs, Janice relaxed back into the hay and allowed James to check her left foot and soak it in the chilly water from the well.
"Tell me about Xena?" she asked in a sleepy voice.
"Xena? Xena was an incredible woman. Beautiful, deadly."
"Yes but I mean what was she like?" Janice propped herself up on a hay bale.
"She was a good, loyal friend. She had a twisted sense of humor and there was almost nothing that she could not do once she set her mind on it." James smiled in memory.
"Wasn't she a cold person? Unemotional, I mean," Janice asked as she struggled to keep her eyes open.
"Xena? No way! Oh, she could do the stoic warrior routine when she felt like she had to, but she had emotions! She would have died for Gabrielle, or any of her friends, and she did come back from the dead several times for Gabrielle. To everyone else she might have been the unfeeling warrior, but for her friends she let the walls down once in a while and allowed us to see the unsure woman inside."
Janice's eyes popped open wide and she nearly yelled, "Unsure woman? You just said that there was almost nothing she couldn't do! What was she unsure about?"
James stared into the fire for a while before finally speaking. "A lot of things. She was unsure if she would ever reach a point where she deserved to be forgiven for what she did as a warlord. She was unsure if she could always be there for Gabrielle. She was unsure if she would always be able to resist the pull of Ares and not go back to being a warlord. Trust me, Xena was a very feeling woman who had more than her share of personal demons and fears."
Janice started to ask more questions but James held his hand up. "Janice, go to sleep. You need your rest. We can talk some more tomorrow."
"I can't sleep till I get some of this road grime off of me. I still have rock dust inside my clothes from this morning." So saying Janice casually stripped off her shirt and dipping it into the bucket of water started to wash herself. She heard a gasp and watched with an amused look on her face as James got up and walked over to the door of the barn and stood with his back to her looking out.
Finishing with her bathing, she rinsed out her clothing and hung them up to dry. She laid back on the hay in only her bra and a pair of men's boxer shorts she always wore. "Good night, James," she called out.
She saw as James turned and, getting a look at what she was wearing, quickly turned back to looking outside.
"Good night, Janice," he called over his shoulder to her.
After passing the blade trap and negotiating several twists and turns which had ended in dead ends, forcing the pair to back track, they came to a different kind of dead end. This one was a door, made of heavy cedar wood and fitted with a bronze lock. Grinning, Autolycus removed his lockpicking tools and approached it, only to halt in his tracks when he saw that the lock had no keyhole.
"What the--?! How are we supposed to get through this?" he growled.
"Maybe these will tell us," Gabrielle suggested, shining her torch on a series of raised panels on one of the walls.
"Eh? What are those?" the thief inquired, adding his own torch light.
Gabrielle cautiously reached out and touched one of the illustrated panels and was surprised to feel it move beneath her hand. Looking closer, she realized that all twelve of the panels were set on moving tracks which allowed them to be maneuvered and placed in any order. She peered owlishly at the pictures and suddenly nodded her head. "I recognize this story!" she exclaimed. "It's the Israelites' escape from Egypt. See, Moses, their leader, confronted the Pharaoh and demanded that he free the Israelites--That's this picture," she said, moving that one to the first position and clicking it into place. "But Pharaoh refused and so the God of the Israelites sent a series of ten plagues to force him to change his mind."
"And I thought our Gods were nasty customers," Auto shuddered.
"The first was turning the Nile to blood," she continued, moving the corresponding picture tile. Click.
"The second was frogs." Click.
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"The third was gnats...or was it flies?" she pondered, staring at the two tiles. One depicted the familiar form of a stylized fly with its enormous segmented eyes, the other a smaller, diamond-shaped insect.
Autolycus looked around, but could spot no obvious indications of what they might expect should she get the order wrong. "I'd be very sure before you click any more of those into place, Gabrielle. Whoever built this thing wasn't worried about killing anyone foolish enough to enter without all the keys to his little puzzles," he pointed out.
Gabrielle nodded. "It was gnats and then flies. I'm sure of it," she announced, clicking the two tiles into place.
The King of Thieves and the Bard looked about them fearfully, but nothing happened.
"Whew. Okay, next came the death of the livestock." Click.
"Then the boils." Click.
"The scourge of hail." Click.
"Talk about overkill."
"Scary, but not deadly."
"And, finally, the death of all Egyptian first born children." Click.
"This final panel depicts the Israelites safely crossing the Red Sea, while Pharaoh's army is drowned." Click.
"Remind me to stay on this God's good side. Sheesh. What a grouch."
"Look, the door is opening," Gabrielle exclaimed, pointing to the lockless door as it swung slowly open.
The pair quickly entered the next room and the door closed behind them.
Autolycus and Gabrielle found themselves in a long corridor, with no visible exits on the sides. At the far end of the hallway, the maze branched to the right and the left. "Be careful," Auto warned, carefully making his way forward. "I don't trust this hall. Too empty. Too long."
Suddenly, his foot sunk as the entire block making up the floor dropped slightly. The sound of ropes unlashing could be heard and a second later the entire hallway was filled with metal-spiked logs swinging back and forth, blocking all further progress. "Oh, great," the thief sighed. "What is it, is there some sort of rule that states that every dungeon or maze has to have this trap?"
"You've seen this before, then?" Gabrielle asked.
"Too many times to remember. I'll navigate to the end and look for the way to disengage it so you can get through," he said. Before Gabrielle could say a word, he leaped past the first log, handsprang past the second, dodged the third, was grazed by the fourth before getting by it, danced around the fifth and rolled past the sixth. "I made it," he called back, holding his wounded shoulder. "Now, just hold on while I look for some way to stop those things."
"Don't bother," Gabrielle called.
Autolycus looked back to the far end but couldn't see her. "Where are you?" he shouted.
"Down here. The designer used logs so short that I was able to crawl beneath them without getting touched," she replied, standing up and brushing herself off. "How's your arm?"
"It's fine," Auto snapped. "Well, which way should we go from here? Right or left?"
Gabrielle looked down both passages and saw that each twisted to the right after about twenty paces. "Hmmm, I don't know. What do you think?"
"I'm inclined to take the right, which probably means we should go left," he grinned.
"No, let's tempt fate and go right," Gabrielle smiled. "I mean, how bad could it be?"
Suddenly, the walls began to close in on them and bars sprang up, blocking both their advance and retreat.
"You just had to ask, didn't you?" Autolycus growled. He charged to the bars and called out in relief, "There's the release lever!" He pointed to a wooden bar sticking out of a slot in the wall just beyond arm's length past the bars.
"Hurry up and activate it!" Gabrielle cried. "The passage is too narrow to use my staff to block the walls!"
With a flick of his wrist, his grappling hook appeared in his hand. "Don't let me down, baby!" he purred, kissing it and then twirling it around and letting it fly. It struck the lever, but dropped to the floor without fastening to it. "Come on, sweetheart!" he pleaded, retrieving it and then letting it fly again as the walls began to squeeze against his shoulders.
This time, the line wrapped itself around the lever and Auto jerked the line downward, tripping the lever and causing the bars to drop back down into the floor and the walls to recede. Autolycus dropped to his knees and laughed softly to himself, "Oh, yeah, you're still the king, baby."
"Should we continue on this way, or head back and take the other fork?" Gabrielle asked.
"Are you kidding me? After that, this had better be the right way! Come on, let's find that holy whatzit and get out of here," he grumbled, climbing to his feet. "After this, that warlord might be a welcome sight."
"He might," Gabby giggled, "but I don't think you'll care for his company."
"What are you talking about?" he demanded, carefully making his way around the corner.
"Oh, you'll see," she snickered.
"I don't see how Xena puts up--Well, what have we here?" he said suddenly. Before him was a another door of heavy cedar, but this one had a lock with a keyhole. There was a small table beside the door and on it rested a curious metal object made of countless linked rods and plates. Currently, it was in the rough shape of a man, but when Auto touched it, it collapsed into a shapeless pile. "Here, play with this and keep out of my hair while I open this sucker," he said, tossing the strange object to the Bard and removing his lockpicking tools.
As he started to work on the lock, Gabrielle experimented with the thing, allowing it to form whatever it willed at first, and then trying to mold it back into the shape it had originally been in. She was amazed at how many different things she could create with it.
"I don't get it," Auto growled, pounding on the door. "The lock must have some sort of magnetic quality which repels my tools."
"What does that mean?" Gabrielle asked, still playing with the mysterious object.
"It means that the key must also contain this same quality, and that we're going to have to go back to the other fork, after all," he sighed, putting away his tools.
"Wait a minute!" the Bard exclaimed, her hands working to mold the thing in her hands into a specific shape. "Try this," she grinned, handing him the object, which was now in the form of a key.
Auto scowled thoughtfully and tried the key in the lock. It clicked open and he said, without even turning around, "Beginner's luck."
Gabrielle smiled to herself but wisely kept quiet.
"Uh-oh, I don't like the looks of this," Auto said softly.
"What's wrong?" Gabby asked, peering around his shoulder. "It just looks like an empty room to me."
Before them was a room, roughly ten by ten paces, with nothing unusual or remarkable about it. Not even the lockless door on the opposite wall.
"Exactly. That means this one is bound to be deadlier than any of the others," Auto warned, carefully probing the floor with his foot.
"Maybe this is like a rest area, a reward for having made it this far without getting killed?" she suggested.
"You haven't been in a whole lot of mazes, have you?" Autolycus asked, turning to face her.
"Not a lot, no," she confessed.
"I thought as much." He turned and continued to probe the floor carefully until he reached the door. "Now, stand back, this is more than likely where the trap will be sprung." He closed his eyes and opened the door. Silence. Squinting through his eyelids, he peered around and saw that no deadly trap had been triggered.
"See?" Gabrielle scolded, walking past him and into the next room. "You're too suspici-AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!" She screamed in sudden terror as the floor on both sides of the door fell away, revealing a pit filled with deadly spikes.