Disclaimer: The characters of Xena: Warrior
Princess are owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures,
bless them. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This is a prerift story. There
is some subtext, as little or as much as you want. Antipany is a
character from a previous story, but this tale stands alone.
Suffice it to say that Antipany and Xena don't like each other
The warm spring day gave no warning to the tragedy to come. In fact
the tedious plodding of the horses hooves set Gabrielle to doze from her
perch on Argo's back behind Xena. Following along side was a disgruntled
sorceress riding on a small sway backed brown pony named Circe. Unruly
auburn hair framed a thin, pale, unhappy face. Despite the heat, she
wore a cloak that seemed far too bulky for her slight frame and still
she never broke a sweat. The longer they rode, the more unhappy Antipany
"Tell me again why I'm required to come along?" she fumed
"Because you volunteered," replied Xena shortly.
"Remember that 'If you ever need my skills, summon me' speech you
made the last time we crossed paths?"
"Yeah, but I never thought you'd take me up on it,"
Antipany protested .
"It wasn't my idea."
The sorceress pondered that for a moment. "So," she said
slowly, "Gabrielle twisted your arm until you agreed I had to
"Something like that."
Gabrielle roused from her doze, wiping the drool off Xena's leathers.
"Go ahead Xena, tell her how we came to an agreement."
"You're a sore loser, you know that?"
"Wait a minute," Antipany interjected. "Are you
telling me I'm here because you lost a bet?" She glared at the
warrior. "How many wagers have you won?" she asked Gabrielle.
"That Xena will admit to? Well, counting this time, once."
Antipany's pale complexion reddened. "After all these years you
picked now to lose a bet!" she snarled, then fumed some more.
"What was the bet?" she asked the bard.
"Never mind," replied the warrior hastily.
Gabrielle snickered again. "I made her move her hand. It was
probably the wine that did the trick," she added cryptically.
Antipany stared at her. "You mean I'm here because her Eminence
Xena turned a cold eye to Antipany. "I'm never drunk." She
glanced behind at the bard. "And believe me, Gabrielle, it wasn't
the wine that made me move."
"No, no," Gabrielle said hastily, rubbing the warrior's
back soothingly. "She wasn't drunk. Just very... mellow." Then
winked at Antipany, who proceeded to mutter something about the sorry
state of warrior intelligence under her breath.
Xena grimaced and urged Argo on a little faster.
Circe gamely trotted faster to keep up. "So, how did you get her
to move her hand?" Antipany asked.
"Never mind!" the warrior snarled. She urged Argo into a
canter and poor Circe nearly had to gallop to keep up. Gabrielle yelped
in surprise and clung to the warrior.
"All right, all right," Antipany called out. "Slow
down, princess, I don't really want to know the sordid details."
Argo slowed to a walk. "Why Telamedes would trust you to save the
Books of Prophesy, I'll never know," Antipany grumbled. "He
gets some obscure message that someone's trying to steal them and he
can't wait to get you involved. And what do you do? Drag me out of my
wedding bed and insist I come along."
"You've been married for three months, Antipany, I doubt very
much you and Telamedes were still in bed. And believe me, if I'd known
your husband approved of your coming, I never would have agreed to do
this. These are very powerful old texts that have been hidden for a long
time in the Valley of Larima."
Antipany snorted. "The Valley of Larima is a death trap. I don't
know of anyone who came back from there."
"Maybe Telamedes is trying to tell you something," Xena
Antipany glared at her. "What makes you so sure we can get in.
And if we get in, get back out?"
"I know how."
"Of course you do," murmured the sorceress. "But who
would want a bunch of musty old texts?"
Xena brought Argo to a halt and stared at a knoll in the distance.
"I suspect they would," she said with a tight smile. Gabrielle
slid off Argo without comment and twirled her staff.
"How many?" she asked.
"Ten. Two on horseback."
"Can you tell us the color of their eyes while you're at
it?" Antipany asked dryly.
"Who cares?" Xena retorted, then spurred Argo into a gallop
as ten men crested the knoll. With a whoop, the two mounted mercenaries
spurred their horses forward to meet her, swords raised.
"Let's go," Gabrielle yelled. She skidded to a stop when
she noted Antipany had not moved. "What's wrong?"
Antipany frowned watching the mercenaries. "This a warrior
thingy, Gabrielle. Blood, guts, dirt. Hardly suited to those of us who
practice the finer arts."
"Oh right, wouldn't want to break a fingernail. But you have to
help, that's what friends do," Gabrielle replied impatiently.
Suddenly she whistled and Circe broke into a trot, following the bard
toward the action.
Antipany nearly fell off the saddle at the pony's sudden movement.
She grabbed the saddlehorn and, with the skill of a seasoned warrior,
roundly cursed her gentle patient pony. "We're not even
friends," she finally wailed when profanity failed. Then there was
no time for talk as they entered the fray.
They came at Xena from both sides. She neatly ducked the sword of the
man on her left and parried the thrust of the other. Bringing her foot
up, she kicked the mercenary on her left, unhorsing him, then vaulted
onto the back of the other horse as his rider was trying to bring him
around. She grabbed the man's neck and gave it a savage twist, instantly
breaking it. Throwing the body to the ground she drove through the ranks
of the foot soldiers, scattering them and killing two more in the
Two of the men ran forward to take on Gabrielle. She dropped and took
the legs out from one and then brought the staff up and connected with
the jaw of the other. Spinning around, she swept the staff across the
head of the soldier struggling to get up. He sat back down with a
"All right, Gabrielle," Antipany said with approval, still
perched on Circe.
"We could use a little help here, Antipany," the bard
panted as another mercenary ran toward them.
"But you're doing so well..." Antipany's hands began to
glow as the soldier ran by Gabrielle and headed for Circe.
Xena vaulted off the horse and immediately found herself surrounded
by four men. They paused as a look of wicked delight crossed her
features. "Come on boys," she coaxed. "Come to
Antipany had brought her hands up to fire off a bolt of energy when
Gabrielle swung around and clipped the charging soldier in the back
sending him crashing into Circe. The little pony shied away, effectively
unseating her mistress. Startled, Antipany shot off a huge, wayward bolt
of energy that sheared off a large branch from a nearby oak.
There was a loud crack and everyone looked up just in time to see the
massive branch come hurtling down on their heads. When the dust cleared,
no one moved as Gabrielle and Antipany looked on in stunned silence.
Then the leaves rustled and one very angry warrior princess stood up,
shaking the leaves out of her hair. Her eyes fixed on Antipany, she
brushed the debris off her shoulders, picked a small branch out of her
cleavage and stalked over to where the sorceress was sitting.
"It's not my fault!" Antipany protested, scooting backwards
as fast as her bulky cloak would allow.
Gabrielle hastily inserted herself between the two women. "She's
right, Xena. It was my fault. I caused Circe to move." She absently
picked off a few more leaves and brushed at the warrior's leathers.
Xena stopped and glowered over Gabrielle's shoulder at the sorceress
for a moment, then turned and growled at the three mercenaries at her
feet. Taking that as an invitation to depart, the three scampered to
their feet and ran away. Stalking back over to the downed branch, she
reached in and hauled out a body, then threw him over to the side.
Reaching back in she hauled out another, this time with a grunt of
satisfaction as she found the leader of the mercenaries. She dragged him
out of the debris and watched patiently as he shook his head groggily.
When he glanced up at her she suddenly reached down and stabbed both
sides of his neck with her fingers. He stiffened and looked bewildered
as a small trickle of blood came out of one nostril.
"No blood, no brain," she explained. "You have thirty
seconds to tell me what I want to know or you die."
He gulped and nodded.
"Who sent you?"
"Carnus of Larissa," he gasped.
She scowled. "What does a merchant want with the books?"
He looked up at her in agony. "I don't know. He paid me to delay
you. Any... way... possible..." His eyes began to glaze over.
Xena reached down and poked the man in the neck. He relaxed with a
sigh of relief. "Is it my imagination or are the scum getting
scummier these days?" she asked before laying him out with a hard
right cross. "Let's get moving." She mounted Argo and offered
a hand to the bard.
Antipany looked around. "What about these guys? Won't they just
come after us again?"
"I doubt even they are that stupid. They did what they were paid
to do." She urged Argo on.
Antipany sighed as her pony nudged her. "I'm coming, I'm
coming." She scratched Circe's forehead. "You should remember
who feeds you," she scolded. "You never come that fast when I
whistle." She mounted up and rode to catch up.
They camped that evening at the base of a mountain. After dinner
Antipany went to wash the cooking utensils at a nearby stream. Xena sat
on a log cleaning and sharpening her sword while Gabrielle made a few
notations on some parchment. The vigor with which Xena was wielding the
soapstone told Gabrielle just how angry she was. Every now and then the
bard would glance over to her companion only to receive the same
aggrieved look. Sighing, she put down her parchment and wandered over to
"Antipany will be useful, Xena. Eventually," Gabrielle said
with more hope than conviction.
Xena's hands stilled for a moment and she stared at her companion.
"You are irritating sometimes, you know it?"
Gabrielle's brow furrowed and she knelt down between Xena's legs.
Resting an elbow on each of the warrior's knees she asked, "If I'm
so irritating, why do you keep me around?" She snapped her fingers.
"I know! You'd perish without my cooking."
"I can cook, Gabrielle. At least enough to survive."
"What you do to good food is called a crime, not cooking, Xena.
There's something to be said for the quality of life."
Xena shook her head. "No, I don't keep you around for your
cooking." She cocked her head. "And it sure isn't for your
snoring." Her face was carefully neutral. "Why do I keep you
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and a slight smile appeared. "Must be
my stories then. You need entertainment on the road."
"You're always entertaining," Xena conceded. "But no,
that's not why." A warm gleam appeared in the sky blue eyes.
Suddenly sober, Gabrielle looked at her friend. "Would it be
because I'd follow you to Tartarus and live there happily with you if
that were your fate?"
Xena sighed and bent forward to touch foreheads with her companion.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. We do need Antipany and I need you."
Gabrielle grinned, "Thanks."
She caught Gabrielle's arm as she started to rise. "Now why do
you keep me around?" Gabrielle sank back to her knees considering
"I know," Xena said, "it's for my conversational
"Nooo, I don't really think so."
"My pleasant, even temperament?"
"Not even close," Gabrielle said dryly.
Xena stared intently into her companion's eyes. "Because not
even Hades can keep me out of the Elysian Fields if you're there?"
And was rewarded by a wide, warm smile. The clanging of pots announced
the imminent arrival of Antipany.
"I love you, Xena," the bard whispered. With peace restored
Gabrielle kissed her companion and went back to her parchment.
Antipany dropped her load of dishes and sat down with a groan.
"I still can't see the wonder of camping out. A hard lumpy bed on
the ground, insects providing the only meat in your food, and best of
all those wonderful leaves to scratch the Tartarus out of your rear
"Parchment works well for that," Xena commented as she
continued to sharpen her sword. "Gabrielle has some very soft
pieces." The bard's head shot up from her text.
"Don't even think it," she warned Antipany, clutching her
scroll to her chest.
Antipany shrugged. "Relax Gabrielle. I won't touch your
scrolls." She thought for a moment then reached into her cloak and
pulled out a scroll. "I brought my own wiping parchment. Some guy
named Sappho..." It was snatched out of her hand before she could
"Sappho's a woman, you... you Philistine," Gabrielle
"I'd be insulted if I knew what that meant, wouldn't I?"
Antipany asked Xena, who nodded in confirmation. "So Sappho's a
woman. Well, that certainly gives new meaning to those words." She
exchanged an amused glance with the warrior. "Not to change the
subject but why would a man who has more dinars than Zeus want with
obscure old prophesies?"
Xena shrugged. "A man like that never has enough. He obviously
thinks the books have some value or he wouldn't be after them." A
coldness settled on her features. "But he's not going to get them.
If we can get there before his men do, we can make him see it's not
worth his time."
"What makes you think we can?"
Xena smiled, the coldness never leaving her eyes. "Because we're
taking a shortcut."
"Why does that always sound so ominous when you say it?"
grumbled the sorceress as she settled down to sleep.
The next morning they rode slowly along the base of the mountain
searching for a path to take them up. Xena finally shook her head in
frustration. "I know it's here," she said. She searched the
face of the mountain. The grass and rocks stretched up as far as they
could see, broken only by an occasional tree.
Antipany looked at her in surprise. "Aren't you following the
signs?" she asked.
Xena stared at her, loath to admit she didn't see a thing out of the
ordinary. "What signs?" she finally asked.
"Those signs," the sorceress said impatiently, waving a
hand at some rocks. "The ones that point up that way." She
pointed up the mountain, then paused. "Oh, you can't see them, can
you? They were probably set by another sorcerer." She dismounted
and walked up to some stones. Murmuring a few words, the stones glowed
and revealed a mark pointing in an upward direction. "There's
more," she announced, scanning the mountainside, "but it looks
like we're going to have to climb a little."
Xena felt a movement behind her. "Gloating doesn't become you
Gabrielle," she said softly.
"Now Xena, I would never say I told you so," said the bard,
"even if I did. Telamedes knew her ability to see illusions would
come in handy."
They left the horses to graze in the meadow. Taking some provisions,
they hid the saddlebags and proceeded to follow the gentle incline up
past markers which the sorceress insisted were there until they came to
a sheer rock face which even Xena would have been hard pressed to climb.
The women stopped to rest and take a little nourishment before
continuing. Xena opened the bag Gabrielle had been carrying and took out
bread and cheese. Then a frown creased her face as she took out five
hand sized rocks. "What are these?" she asked.
The bard settled down by her side and picked one up. "Aren't
they unusual, Xena? I picked them up while we were climbing."
"They're rocks, Gabrielle."
"I know that. But look at the colors and the striations and the
shapes. That one could be a flower and that one a wolf's head, and that
"They're heavy. You don't need to be carrying the extra
Antipany laughed. "Give it up, Gabrielle. All she'll ever see is
Xena looked unruffled. "What do you see?" she asked.
"A pile of rocks," the sorceress admitted. Gabrielle shook
her head sadly and waited until Xena had moved away before covertly
placing the rocks back into the pouch. Packing up, they stood for a
while, staring at the rock face.
"What do your signs say now?" Xena asked.
Antipany shrugged. "Enter here," she replied, then
disappeared through the rock face.
"An illusion," Xena said in resignation. "Should have
known. Did I ever tell you..."
"...how much you hate sorcerers?" the bard finished.
"Yes. Many, many, many times. Shall we go?" Trying hard to
quash a sense of impending doom, she placed a hand on Xena's back and
followed the warrior through the illusion.
They found themselves in a brightly lit, small cavern. The first
thing Gabrielle noticed was the tunnel leading out at the back of the
cave. The second thing that caught her attention was the pile of bones
by the wall they had just walked through.
"Your lights?" Xena asked the sorceress, pointing to the
brightly burning torches lined around the cavern and back in the tunnel.
"Nope," Antipany replied. "They lit up when I came
through. Someone knows we're here, princess. By the way, we can't go
back the way we came. The opening has been sealed."
Gabrielle tried to put her hand through and met solid rock.
"Guess we go through the tunnel, huh?"
Xena smiled cheerfully. "Guess so." She strode off to the
Antipany put her arm around the bard's shoulder. "Tell me again
why you stay with her," she asked as they walked toward the tunnel.
Before Gabrielle could answer, the floor of the cavern began to
shake, throwing them to the ground. And suddenly there was no ground at
all as a chasm opened up beneath them. Acting on instinct, Xena launched
herself into the air, somersaulting toward the tunnel. She fell a bit
short, but managed to catch the edge of the chasm with her fingertips.
The dirt crumbled under her fingers and she scrabbled desperately,
trying to find safe purchase. Finally her feet found a small ledge and
she held on, noting that even with her keen hearing she still hadn't
heard the loose dirt hit bottom. All she heard was a faint moaning sound
coming from the depths. With a determined yell she launched herself into
a flip and landed in a squat on the lip of the chasm, teetering on the
edge. Propelling herself forward with her arms, she stood and whirled,
calling out, "Gabrielle!"
Xena stopped, her eyebrow raised at the sight before her. Antipany
floated in the middle of the chasm, her eyes shut tight, arms
outstretched, softly chanting for all she was worth. Gabrielle hung from
the hem of Antipany's cloak.
"Gabrielle," the warrior called softly. "Can you swing
over here a little closer and I'll pull you in."
"I... I don't think we can move, Xena, and I sure don't want to
distract Antipany in any way."
Sweat poured off the sorceress' brow, and the chanting continued at a
fevered pace. It was a lost cause. Slowly the pair began to sink into
the dark, cold depths. Xena grabbed her whip and as she drew back, the
lights went out.
"Gabrielle," she snapped, "talk to me."
"Gosh, Xena," came the shaky reply out of the darkness.
"You sure pick strange times to want to talk things out..."
The whip cracked and wrapped itself around a body part.
"Owww," someone yelled and Xena hung on for dear life as
the whip suddenly jerked downward. There was a thump as bodies hit the
side of the chasm. The warrior pulled up on the whip, then reached down
and grabbed a handful of cloak. Pulling the sorceress up over the
edge with one hand, she reached down and after a little fumbling grabbed
a handful of skimpy green top with the other. One powerful tug propelled
the bard up over the edge and onto Xena's lap.
Gabrielle wrapped relieved arms around her companion's neck and
hugged her thankfully. Xena let out a sigh of relief and returned the
embrace. "Gabrielle, as much as I love those magnificent abs of
yours, we're going to have to get you something a little more
substantial to wear. I had trouble finding something to grab on to. You
don't even have love handles... at least on your back." She stroked
the bard's trembling form until the shaking passed and they sat holding
each other in the blackness.
Finally Gabrielle lifted her head and felt around with her hand.
"Where's Antipany?" she asked. Her hand touched a piece of
cloth and she followed it up to a shoulder and then a face.
"I'm here," came a soft, tired voice under her hand.
"Would you please turn on the lights." The torches flared into
life revealing the sorceress lying on the ground and Xena sitting next
to her with Gabrielle in her lap.
"Boy, that's service," said the bard. They stared at the
hole that took up nearly the entire cave. As they watched, the hole
began to close and soon there was no evidence that a chasm had ever
"Another illusion?" Xena asked, her brow furrowed.
Antipany sat up and sighed. "Yes, but whoever created this is
far more skillful than me."
"You seem to have developed some new tricks since the last time
we saw you," Xena observed. "Why did you just hang up there,
instead of coming over to the edge?"
"The 'trick', as you so quaintly call it, is levitation, not
flying. And the reason you never saw it is because it requires your feet
to leave the ground. You know how I hate heights." Her head
dropped. "Dear Zeus, I'm tired."
Xena rose to her feet, taking her companion with her. "I know
what levitation is. I managed to do it once or twice myself." She
looked lost in thought. "A long time ago. I even flew around a
Antipany raised her head. "Of course you did," she said
Giving Gabrielle one last hug, Xena released her and reached down to
help the sorceress to her feet. "It takes a control I never could
manage to keep." She placed her hands on Antipany's shoulders.
"You saved Gabrielle's life, I owe you for that."
Antipany held up a weary hand. "Don't hug me princess. I think
I've suffered enough indignities on this trip."
Wrapping a long arm around Antipany's shoulders, Xena pulled her down
the tunnel. "Oh, you haven't seen nothin' yet," she said with
a wolfish grin.
Antipany groaned. "Please let me rest a while, Xena. I can't go
"No time to rest yet. We have to go."
"Xena," Gabrielle protested. But the warrior continued to
walk down the tunnel, dragging the sorceress along with her, holding her
up when she stumbled in her fatigue. When they reached a part of the
tunnel that took a hard right turn, Antipany pushed away from the
warrior and stared at the wall.
"It's here," she announced. Her companions stared at a
nondescript dirt wall and exchanged glances.
"Another illusion?" Xena asked.
"Yes," replied the sorceress. "Now let's get out of
here." She walked swiftly into the wall, then sat down with a thump
as her face contacted the solid rock. "Oww," she howled,
holding her bloody nose. Tears rolled down her face as she turned
bewildered, pain-filled brown eyes to Xena.
Xena sighed and knelt down, putting some pressure to the base of
Antipany's head and tilted her head back. Taking a cloth, she gently
wiped the blood away and pinched her nose. "You know, Antipany,"
she said in a conversational tone, "even a warrior knows not to
lead with her face."
Antipany slapped the warrior's hand away and turned to Gabrielle for
comfort. "Did I ever tell you how much I hate warriors?" she
sniffed, leaning against the bard's chest. "Tartarus take you, Xena.
I'm not moving from here until I get a nap." Then her eyes glazed
over and she hurled herself into the waiting arms of Morpheus.
Gabrielle settled down with her back leaning against the wall,
Antipany's head cradled in her lap. "I think this is as far as we
go, Xena." She yawned. "I'm a little tired myself."
Xena looked around impatiently. "All right. You stay here with
Antipany and I'll scout ahead and see where the tunnel leads. Don't move
"We won't," Gabrielle promised. "Be careful." She
watched Xena walk down the tunnel and disappear around another bend.
Resting her head against the wall, she tried to keep alert but soon
found herself drifting off. As she sauntered toward Morpheus' realm she
composed a poem, saved the world from certain destruction, had the most
incredible romantic interlude with... and remembered no more, finally
succumbing to Morpheus' insistent touch.
When she woke Xena was sitting nearby, patiently waiting for her
companions to return to wakefulness. "Have a good sleep?" she
"Oh, yeah," replied the bard with a dreamy smile. At the
warrior's upraised eyebrow, she cleared her throat and wiped at her
eyes. "What did you find?" she asked.
"This tunnel is a maze. There's a few bones, but no way out. It
seems others have tried this shortcut. It's pretty clever. Lure us in,
then don't give us any way out. Takes care of all those people who would
want to steal the books. Let's wake up your friend here and see if she
has any ideas." Xena gave Antipany a nudge. When she didn't respond
a cold gleam came to the warrior's eyes.
Gabrielle hastily held up a hand. "Let me try, Xena." She
leaned down and whispered in the sleeping woman's ear. Antipany's eyes
"She wouldn't dare," the sorceress sputtered, sitting up.
One look at Xena's face told her otherwise. "You really are a
barbarian," she informed the warrior.
"Comes in handy sometimes," Xena replied coolly. "Tell
us about this wall Antipany."
Antipany studied the wall then shook her head. "If I hadn't been
so tired earlier," throwing Xena a reproachful look, "I
wouldn't have tried to just walk through. The top line says 'This way
out' then there's some writing I don't understand." She bent down
and scribbled in the dirt. "This is what it says."
Gabrielle studied the writing. "I think I can translate it. It
looks like an older version of Latin. It says,
One head, four eyes
Look behind, look ahead
Say my name
Or you'll be fish"
She looked up in confusion. "Fish?"
Antipany looked at the wall again. "Oops." She rubbed out
the symbol and replaced it with another.
"Dead. Say my name or you'll be dead. Not much of a poet was
he." She looked at the sorceress again.
"That's what it says. I just see it, I don't read it. Don't ask
me what it means."
Gabrielle looked at the writing again. "What's Latin doing
The warrior's brow furrowed. "I thought that was a dead
"It will be if I have anything to say about it," Xena said
"If I remember the stories right the Romans have a god with two
faces. One points to the east and the other to the west. Something to do
with gates, I think," Gabrielle continued.
"What's that indentation in the wall?" asked the sorceress
Xena studied the wall then reached up and brushed gently at the
shallow hole. "It looks like a picture of some kind. Hmm... a face
maybe." She bit her lip. "Great, just great."
"What's the matter?" Gabrielle asked.
"It's a lock, and we don't have the key," she said grimly.
They sat on the dirt floor trying to decide on their next move.
Gabrielle finally threw up her hands and announced, "I'm hungry,
let's have a snack." She grabbed her bag and dumped the contents on
the ground. Gathering some olives, cheese and bread, she passed the fare
Xena's attention was fixed on the five stones Gabrielle had dumped
from her bag. "Gabrielle, those rocks..."
Gabrielle looked guiltily at her companion. "Now, Xena, I know
you told me to get rid of them but I couldn't. Please don't be
Xena stared at her then took the bard's face in her hands and kissed
her passionately. Releasing her startled friend she grabbed the stones
and began to examine them. "Upset? Why should I be upset? I think
you just saved our lives."
"Remind me never to do that," Antipany said to Gabrielle,
who sat with a silly grin on her face, not looking the least bit
offended. She humphed then watched Xena try to rub some of the dirt off
the stones before reaching into her cloak and withdrawing a small brush.
"Maybe this will help, princess."
"Did you bring the market, Antipany?" Taking the brush,
Xena cleaned the surfaces of the rocks. "They're all about the
same. Two faces, one looking right, the other left." She stood up
and brushed out the impression in the rock wall. Holding up each rock,
she compared it to the impression. Finally she chose one and started to
insert it into the wall.
"Be careful, Xena," Antipany warned. "Put in the wrong
one and we may never get out of here."
"I'm never wrong," Xena said matter-of-factly, inserting
the rock into the depression.
"Of course you're not," murmured the sorceress.
"She's not," Gabrielle confirmed. "Although....
sometimes the rest of the world is." The rock melted into the wall
and disappeared. "Janus," commanded the bard. They waited. And
waited, getting more uneasy as the minutes passed. Antipany was starting
to make rude noises when she suddenly fell silent.
"What happened?" Xena asked suspiciously.
"The happiest day of my life will be when I can finally say
you're wrong," came the resigned reply, then the sorceress
disappeared through the wall. Xena grinned at her companion and escorted
her through the rock face.
And ran into the back of Antipany who was standing frozen in front of
the opening. "What the..." muttered Xena, pushing the silent
figure aside. Then she saw what Antipany was gawking at. At the front of
the group was a priestess in a long white robe and behind her stood
three attendants similarly attired. But what caught the warrior's
attention was the two temple guards. Seven and half feet tall, bulging
muscles, full black beards and long black hair. Even more impressive
were their coal black eyes. Antipany instinctively ducked in behind Xena
while Gabrielle moved up to her side. Xena's hand started for her sword.
The priestess was an older woman with long snow-white hair pulled
back into a braid. Piercing hazel eyes regarded them calmly. "Hold
warrior," she said in a commanding voice. "There is no need
for violence here. We are not your enemies."
"That remains to be seen," Xena replied coolly, pushing
Gabrielle back a step. However her hand fell to her side, sword undrawn.
"My name is Herophile. And you, warrior, are trespassing. Now
kindly tell us who are you and more importantly, what do you want?"
"I'm Xena. This is Gabrielle," she said, indicating the
bard, who nodded to the priestess. "And that is Antipany," she
said pointing back to the sorceress who simply stared in wonder at the
guards. "Antipany's husband is Telamedes, a priest of Apollo. We
have word that an unscrupulous merchant named Carnus is going to try to
steal the books of prophesy and we came to warn you."
Herophile appraised her for a moment. "Why should you care, Xena?
Unless you came to steal them yourself." She turned to the temple
guard. "Escort our guests to the temple."
As they walked Gabrielle attempted to make conversation with the
guards. "Boy, you guys are impressive. Not from these parts are
you?" Getting no response didn't deter the bard one moment.
"What a remote place to have a temple. Don't get many visitors I'll
The temple was a large, domed structure made of white marble.
Impressive columns lined the front. Two massive wooden doors stood open.
They were escorted into the cool interior, through several hallways
until the guard stopped in front of a door. Pushing open the door, he
gestured into the room. "You'll stay here. Dinner will served in an
hour. You are not allowed out without an escort," he warned.
They filed into the windowless room and looked around. Slits along
one wall allowed sunlight to filter in. It was sparsely furnished with a
couple of chairs and tables, a large sleeping pallet in one corner, and
a basin with a pitcher of water sitting by it on a stand. Antipany threw
herself on the pallet. "Well, that was certainly interesting. How
do you suppose Herophile ended up here, princess?"
"Do you know her?" Xena asked.
"I know about her. Being married to a priest of Apollo has its
advantages." She sat up on the pallet. "She's a sibyl, an
oracle of Apollo. But what I can't figure out is what she's doing here.
She supposedly died years ago." Antipany scowled at the warrior.
"Doesn't anyone know how to stay dead in this world?" she
asked with a sigh.
Gabrielle turned to her friend. "She doesn't look very dead to
me. I'm a little confused here, Xena. If she's a sibyl then she already
knows the books are in danger. And those temple guards of hers can
handle any threat to the books. So what are we doing here?"
Xena shrugged. "Guess we'll find out at the evening meal."
Dinner was served in an elegant dining room. Marble columns lined the
walls and a long marble dining table graced the center of the room.
Herophile sat at the head of the table with Xena on her right. A young
acolyte, Hygea, sat on her left. The small blonde regarded the warrior
across from her with silent awe throughout the meal.
Antipany sat between Hygea and another dark haired priestess named
Demo. The reserved priestess picked at her food as she talked to the
sorceress. "You're the first visitors to make it through the cave
since I've been here. How did you do it?"
"It wasn't too difficult. Although it would have taken me a
little longer without Gabrielle's excellent translation, and of course
Xena's menial skills." the sorceress replied taking a bite of food.
"The traps were interesting and vaguely familiar. Who set it up for
"Oh, I know!" exclaimed an excited, red headed acolyte
named Ionea sitting next to Gabrielle. "It was Maxius!"
Antipany inhaled sharply, then a look of bewilderment passed over her
face. Frantically she grabbed her throat and her face took on a slightly
bluish tinge. Quickly assessing the situation, Xena moved around the
table and slapped the sorceress between the shoulder blades. Which
caused her upper abdomen to strike forcefully against the edge of the
table and a piece of lamb flew out of her mouth, landing in her plate.
Sucking in great gulps of air, her color gradually passed from blue to
red to its normal pale color.
Xena motioned everyone to sit down. "She's all right. It happens
when all that hot air gets trapped in the lungs. You know, those signs
in the cave seemed to be of Roman origin. Was Maxius a Roman?"
"Wasn't Maxius your mentor, Antipany?" asked Gabrielle.
Antipany wiped the tears from her eyes. "Ye... yes, but he
wasn't Roman." She thought for a moment. "Maxius was... Well I
don't know what he was. He was just old. He'd traveled all over the
world." She shifted uncomfortably under Xena's unwavering gaze.
"Really?" Ionea said, running her hand through her unruly
red hair. "He's said to have set up the protection for this valley
over two hundred years ago, when this temple was built. It seems to have
worked rather well. The mountains surrounding us are unscalable and that
cave is the only entrance. I don't think more than a handful of outside
visitors have been recorded since that time."
"How did you come to be here?" Gabrielle asked.
Ionea shrugged. "We were promised to Apollo as children. My
parents brought me to the cave when I was very young. It's the only home
I've ever known. Tell us about the world beyond the mountains,
Gabrielle glanced at Herophile, who nodded her permission. Slipping
into bard mode, she soon had a captivated audience of acolytes and
priestesses hanging on to her every word.
Herophile waited until everyone was engrossed, then motioned Xena to
follow her out into the courtyard. Antipany watched them slip away, then
returned her attention to Gabrielle's story.
Xena was led into a torch lit yard with stone benches and bordered
with carefully tended flowers and bushes. She walked restlessly around
the yard, touching the flowers, searching the darkness for any hint of
trouble and finding none. Finally she turned back to the priestess who
was watching her impassively.
"You're looking remarkably fit for a dead woman," Xena
Herophile smiled. "The reports of my death were a bit
"I had heard no one escaped that siege. What happened?"
"Apollo happened. Just before the city fell he took me away.
There are benefits to serving the gods, Xena."
Xena snorted. "Yeah, and a lot of heartache. It's not worth it.
All right, Herophile, we were sent by Telamedes. He says you know
"We've met. He's a good man."
"Yes, he is. And he's concerned that those books will fall into
the wrong hands."
"You are also well known, Xena. I understand why the priest is
concerned, but why did you come?" asked the priestess.
"Because I always repay my debts and I always help my
friends," Xena replied steadily. "I've turned my life around,
Herophile. No more looting, no more war making, no more armies."
She gave the priestess a small rueful smile.
"I'm an oracle Xena, I know you've changed. I just don't know
how much. As for the cave," she shrugged, "only the worthy
make it and not many are worthy. Don't give me that put upon look. You
like challenges. The harder they are, the happier it makes you. And I'm
about to make you very happy."
"Oh?" Xena raised an interested eyebrow.
"Someone will steal the Books of Prophesy. I already know that
and you have told me his name is Carnus. The time is soon, I can feel
it. My problem is that the picture is clouded by someone within the
temple, who will betray us. I don't know who it is, but my vision tells
me you are meant to be here and that's why I'm going to let you stay.
Find out who it is and stop them."
"Are the books here?" Xena asked, staring into the
"Last time I looked. I'm still not sure I trust you, Xena. You
say you've changed, my dreams tell me you've changed, but the darkness
still roils deep within you. It will surface again."
Xena shook her head. "That part of my life is over, Herophile.
Gabrielle keeps me on a steadier course. I won't go back to the
Herophile looked out into the black night and her eyes lost focus.
"Interesting choice of a companion, Xena," she said thickly.
"How did you happen to pick her?"
"I didn't," Xena chuckled. "She picked me. I did my
best to discourage her from following me, but she can be pretty
stubborn." Her eyes narrowed as she watched the oracle stare out
into the distance.
Presently the oracle shook her head and turned her attention back to
Xena. "Lucky for you, but not so lucky for her. I see trouble
"Now there's a news flash," the warrior replied dryly.
Herophile shook her head. "I see a dragon bursting from a
volcano. Her fiery breath threatens to consume you but instead of
running away you run toward it."
"I think that pretty well describes my whole life, Herophile."
Xena said still unimpressed.
"The dragon has Gabrielle's face," said the oracle
unperturbed by Xena's skepticism.
Xena stiffened. "Gabrielle could never be my enemy," she
said shortly and turned to go back into the temple.
"Xena." Herophile's command stopped the warrior.
"Remember your companion is young. Her choices will not always be
wise, as yours weren't at that age, but they come from the goodness in
"You should stay away from those spicy foods," Xena
snorted. "Antipany isn't the only one full of hot air
"It's wise not to dwell on what you can't change,"
acknowledged the oracle, watching Xena enter the temple. "But
ignoring us completely is an arrogance few can afford." She smiled
once more at the stars, then sat down and let the visions sweep her
to Part 2 (chapters 4-6)
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