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Warrior Princess or Slayer?

Author: daviderl
Rating: PG
(A.N. When I first started writing fanfiction more than five years ago, I started out with Xena, Buffy, and Xena-Buffy crossovers. I've been wanting to write another crossover story for a long time, but Gilmore Girls' stories have been keeping me occupied the past year and a half. So I decided to go back to Xena and Buffy. And this is it. This takes place early in season six of Buffy.)

Chapter One

Buffy was doing her usual weekly chore – sorting through the bills and trying to decided which ones needed to be paid first, then second, and so on. Dawn was at school, Xander was at the construction work site, Anya was at the Magic box with Giles, and Willow and Tara were in class at UCSD.

Willow and Tara arrived home first and went into the kitchen with some interesting facts they ran across while doing research for their class on Ancient Greece Language and Culture.

". . . And I couldn't believe what I was reading," Willow was saying.

"I know," Tara agreed. "Of course the text is in the ancient Greek, and our translation is still a bit iffy, but . . . ."

". . . it was just like we were reading about another Slayer!" Willow finished. "If these chronicles are anywhere NEAR accurate, this woman was amazing!"

"Yeah," Tara said. "Her abilities sounded so Slayer-like, it was uncanny."

"Hey, guys, slow down. This all sounds very interesting, sort of, but you know how those stories are – somebody tells one, and when the next guy tells it, he puts his spin on it. And then the next one adds HIS little embellishments, and the next thing you know – Old Mother Hubbard turns into Superwoman."

"But that's the thing!" Willow exclaimed. "These scrolls were written by her companion as they were happening!"

"But even so, you know she probably exaggerated."

"Oh, I'm sure she did," Tara said. "But that doesn't change the basic facts."

"But how do you know this woman – what did you say her name was?"

"Xena! Her name was Xena. And her companion was Gabrielle."

"Xena? Hmm, odd name. Anyway, how do you know this Xena really existed? Maybe it was just a story. People wrote stories back then all the time – Homer, Socrates, Aristotle, Sappho."

"But that's the thing," Willow said. "We cross-referenced her, and found her mentioned in Roman texts, Norse texts, and even Egyptian!"

"She really got around." Tara added.

"Who got around?" Dawn asked as she came into the kitchen.

"Xena." Willow told her. "Tara and I found some old writings from the time of Caesar about a woman named Xena who sounds a LOT like a Slayer."

"So, she killed vamps and demons?"

"Well, no, not any that we read about. Mostly she just fought warlords and other bad guys running around."

"Doesn't sound like a Slayer to me."

"I didn't mean she was actually a Slayer, just that she had these abilities and skills that make her very Slayer-like."

"Such as?" Buffy asked. Now she was getting interested.

"Well, she was VERY strong. Stronger than most men, WAY stronger. She could back flip onto her horse from the ground."

"And run up the trunk of a tree," Tara added.

"Did she use stakes?" Dawn asked.

"No, no stakes. But she did carry a sword, in a scabbard strapped to her back. I guess to keep it out of the way."

"That's not very special."

"But she did have one weapon that was cool. It was called a Chakram. We're not exactly sure what it looked like, but apparently it was some kind of throwing disk. Very efficient, and very deadly according to Gabrielle."

"Any pictures of her?" Buffy asked.

"No, none that we could find," Tara answered. "But there were several descriptions, and they all seemed to match."

"Yeah," Willow said. "She's described as being very tall, so I'm guessing about six feet, with dark hair and blue eyes."

"She was supposed to be very beautiful."

"Well, yeah," Buffy said. "You can't have an ugly superhero running around. I mean, what would people think?"

"A superhero. You know, she probably was. At least to the people she helped."

"According to Gabrielle, they called her a Warrior Princess. But from what we've been able to read so far, there's no mention of her having royal blood running through her veins."

"Of course, we've only translated four or five of Gabrielle's scrolls. And there must be close to two dozen of them."

"They haven't been translated before?"

"Yeah, we read a few them, but they sounded so …."

Tara looked to Willow for help.

"So bogus."

"Yes, so bogus that we decided to try to read the original text."

"But we found that the translations weren't that far off, but flowery."

Buffy was silent for a few seconds.

"I wonder if Giles has heard anything about her. If she really had the powers you say she had, maybe she WAS a Slayer."

"You think Gabrielle was her Watcher?" Dawn asked. "I mean, maybe back then there were women Watchers."

"Only one way to find out. Anyone up for a trip to the Magic Box?"

Everyone was.

Chapter Two

"…And even though it was a great tragedy that Petracles died at the hands of the assassin Thersides, at least Xena now knew that in his heart, Petracles was a good man."

Gabrielle looked up from the parchment resting on her lap. Across the campfire Xena was, as usual, honing the edge of her sword.

Then carefully dipping the tip of her quill into the ink, she wrote one last sentence. "And that evening, as we settled down for the night, I couldn't help but wonder what adventures awaited us the next day, and the day after that."

After blowing on the ink to make sure it had dried, Gabrielle carefully rolled the parchment up with two others, then tied them with leather string.

Xena looked up. "And I suppose you've finished another story? So which 'great adventure' is that one?"

"It's the one about the Sumerian Treasure, the Ambrosia . . . and Petracles."

"It's been over a year since that happened. How can you remember everything that happened?"

"Because I have a bard's memory. I may not remember all the details, but the basic facts are locked securely up here." And she tapped her head just above her temple.

Xena put her sword away, placed another log on the fire, then laid down on her blanket, settling in for the night. Seeing this, Gabrielle carefully put the scroll in a leather pouch with several others and laid down on her blanket.

But neither was in any hurry to go to sleep. This was the time of day they talked of things other than warlords or the day's battles. They often reminisced and shared their more pleasant memories. Or, in the case of Gabrielle, sometimes speculated on things to come, often becoming philosophical.

"So just how many of those scrolls do you have now?"

"I just finished the ninth one."

"What made you decide to write about Petracles?"

"I really hadn't planned to, but the way my mind works, it just came around to that particular adventure."

When Xena didn't respond, Gabrielle continued.

"This morning when I woke up I was wondering about my scrolls, you know, what will eventually happen to them? Will they be lost after I've died? Or somehow will they be preserved, and found, and read sometime in the future? And that got me to thinking about immortality. Not me so much, but my words; our adventures. Chronicles, if you want to call them that. And that brought me to Ambrosia, and then everything about the events leading up to how we found it. And since Petracles was such a big part of that, I decided the story needed to be told."

"Hmm," Xena murmured, as if she was dozing off, but Gabrielle knew better. Xena never fell asleep before she did.

After a short silence, Gabrielle asked, "Xena, do you ever think about Petracles?"

"Sometimes. And sometimes I think about Marcus. And I even think about Darius, and his children. So what about you? Do you ever think about Perdicus?"

"Of course I do. We grew up together. We were to be married."

Gabrielle sighed. "I never loved him, but he's still in my heart."

There was more silence as they both were letting the chirps of the crickets lull them to sleep.

Then Gabrielle became more fully awake.

"Xena, what about my scrolls? What IS going to happen to them when I die?"

"Most likely you'll pass them on to your children, who will pass them on to their children, and so on and on."

"But what if I never get married and never have children?"

"Then we'll find a nice, dry, secure cave somewhere and hide them."

"I wonder what someone in the future would think of them? Would they think they're actual accounts of the things we've been through? Or just stories made up just for someone's amusement?"

"I suppose that would depend on how much you have embellished the facts -- how believable they sound."

"Well, after all, they ARE stories, but they're still based on actual events. I don't think I've added anything that wasn't really true. Maybe an exaggeration or two, here and there."

"I guess we'll never know."

"But wouldn't it be wonderful if there was some way we could?"

"I suppose."

Chapter Three

When the bell to the Magic Shop rang, Anya looked up expectantly, but when she saw it was only Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Tara, she knew there weren't going to be any cash sales.

Giles, on the other hand, had a look of panic.

"What is it?" he asked. "Some new demon or – or . . . ."

"Relax, Giles," Buffy reassured him. "We're just here for some normal research. Nothing demonic."

"Oh." He sounded almost disappointed. "Research on what, exactly?"

"How far back do the Watchers' diaries go?"

"Oh, at least six hundred years. The Council has extensive Watchers archives. Were you wanting some specific information?"

"What we wanted was some information about a woman who lived about two thousand years ago."

"Maybe a Slayer," Dawn said.

"Well, certainly there were Slayers back then, but their Watchers were either illiterate, or never bothered to write down anything. I suppose they never had any reason to. It wasn't until the Watcher's Council was formed in the late 1300s did the first diaries appear."

"We're not really sure she WAS a Slayer, but Tara and I, have been reading some ancient writings about a woman named Xena who had some very unusual skills and abilities."

Giles was silent for a few seconds, thinking.

"You really haven't given me much to go on. Do you know anything else about her?"

"She carried her sword in a scabbard strapped to her back."

"That is rather unusual, but it still isn't . . . ."

"She used a Chakram."

"Now that rather rings a bell, but I can't quite place it."

"It's a weapon, some kind of throwing disk."

"Yes! I do believe I have heard if it!"

Giles went to a locked cabinet, unlocked and opened it and began looking at the titles of the books. After a minute of searching, he took a large, heavy one out and handed it to Willow, who was closest to him. She would have dropped it if Tara hadn’t helped her with it.

"Look through that one," Giles instructed, then began looking at more titles. He took out an even larger one, so heavy he grunted slightly, and handed it to Buffy. "That one too. And this one."

Buffy took the second book as well, then shaking her head, set them on the table. Dawn opened up one and Buffy took the other. Giles joined them with a fourth tome, and the four of them began leafing through the books, looking for the word 'Chakram.'

"Didn't the people who wrote these things ever hear of an index?" Dawn complained.

"Wouldn't have done much good unless they numbered the pages," Willow said.

No more was said for over half an hour. They all looked up when the bell on the door rang. It was Xander.

"Just what I was looking forward to after a hard day at the site," he complained to Anya. "Researching some demon, apocalypse or evil thing!"

"It's not any of that," she told him. "They're looking for some kind of throwing disk some Greek woman used to kill things with. They've been at it for a while now. I think they're scaring away the customers, but I can't make them stop."

"I found it!" Dawn suddenly yelled out. Then she was more subdued. "I think I found it. But it's spelled S-h-a-k-e-r-a-m in this book."

Giles took the book from her and began to read where she was pointing.

"Yes, I do believe you're right. And there is a reference to the woman who wielded it. She isn't named, but is only known as a warrior princess."

"That's what the scrolls called her!" Willow said. "Xena, the Warrior Princess! Is there any mention of her friend? She was the one who wrote the scrolls. Her name was Gabrielle."

"No, nothing specific. Just a passing mention of an Amazon queen. Was there anything about that in the scrolls?"

"No, but we've only read a few of them."

"I know this sounds a little disparaging," Tara said, "but why is it we've found Xena's name in Greek, Roman and Egyptian writings in the library, and you have, basically, nothing?"

"Because I don't keep books on ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian histories unless they pertain to vampiric or demonic beings."

"Oh, of course," Tara said, a bit embarrassed.

"Then I guess we're pretty much at a standstill," Buffy said. "And I really wanted to find out more about her."

"Well," Anya said, "you could always go back, you know, to meet her."

"And just how would I do that? I don't exactly own a time machine."

"Magic. Willow could do it. Even Tara probably could. It's not that hard. You just have to know the right spell."

"Uh, I'm not sure if that's such a good idea," Giles interjected. "Time travel can cause paradoxes, inconsistencies, and potential history-altering . . . ."

"Oh, poo!" Anya contradicted. "It's done all the time. Anything you do has already been done. You can't change anything."

"So, if I go back in time and kill a thousand people, then it was supposed to happen?" Buffy asked.

"Pretty much."

"But what if she goes back a second time and stops herself and those thousand people don't die?" Dawn asked.

"Then they were never meant to be dead in the first place."

"Anya, how can you be so sure of this?" Giles asked.

"Giles, if being a Vengeance Demon for over a thousand years taught me anything at all, it was that with the right spell you an do almost anything, including creating temporal folds."

Chapter Four

"Do you know the spell?" Tara asked.

"No, but I know who does. But he can be a lit-tle bit difficult sometimes, especially since he's kind of pissed at me right now."

"You're talking about D'Hoffryn?" Willow asked.

Anya nodded.

"So, if he's pissed at you, and he won't help, then why even bring it up at all?" Buffy was getting aggravated at Anya, a common occurrence.

"I didn't say he wouldn't help, it's just that he'll want something from me. Something I don't think I'm willing to give."

"Well, maybe I can ask him. I still have the amulet he gave me after Oz left."

Everyone looked at her, puzzled and alarmed.

"You remember -- when I did that spell that made Giles go blind, and Xander was a demon magnet, and Buffy and Spike . . . ."

"We remember!" Buffy exclaimed.

"Are you sure it will be safe to ask D'Hoffryn for the spell?" Giles asked. "And do we really want to send Buffy back to find this Xena?"

"It can't hurt to ask," Willow answered. "And as far as going back, I think that's up to Buffy."

"It's not so much the going back I'm concerned about," Buffy said. "It's the coming home part. How will that work?"

"It will be part of the spell," Anya said. "There will be some kind of magical phrase or word you'll have to say, or something you'll have to do to come back to the present."

"I guess it's up to you," Giles said to Buffy.

Buffy looked at each of them, then made her decision.

"Willow, if you can get the spell, then I say let's go for it."

"Can I go, too?" Dawn asked.

"NO!" Everyone answered at once.

In less than fifteen minutes Willow had reappeared in the Magic Shop from the Underealm where D'Hoffryn ruled, and she had the spell. It was written on a very, very old piece of parchment, in proto-Sumerian, a language that even Giles was unsure about. Fortunately, Willow had no trouble reading it, thanks to a second favor from D'Hoffryn.

"What should I wear?" Buffy asked. "Should I take any weapons, or food? And what about a sleeping bag, or a tent? Or money? And how will I understand what people are saying to me? And how will they understand ME? How will I get back again?"

"The language won't be a problem. That's part of the spell. I suppose you could take something to eat. Maybe like trail mix or granola. Something that won't look too suspicious," Willow explained. "Don't know about the money part, or the clothes,"

"We've got books on Greece in the school library," Dawn said. "And they've got pictures of women in them. Mostly they wore linen or wool tunics and cloaks and sandals. Some of them wore head bands, and some had their hair up in braids."

"That sounds simple enough. Maybe I won't need any money. And if I'm lucky, maybe I'll find Xena before too long."

"You should take a tent, and hide it somewhere." Tara suggested.

By the time all the details were worked out, it was almost 9 pm. Buffy decided she would wait and leave the next morning, after a good night's sleep and a large breakfast.

By the time she was ready to go, Buffy had a tent, a sleeping bag, ten bottles of water, a dozen candy bars and bags of trail mix, suitable clothes (they hoped), and an amulet with words on the back she was to recite when she was ready to come home.

"I can't read this!" she complained. "It's in Greek."

"But once you're there, you will be able to. It's part of the spell," Willow explained.

"But how will I find her?"

"It's part of the spell. You should be within fifty to a hundred yards of her. You just have to look around for a woman who looks like a warrior princess."

"You know," Anya said, "I was really surprised D'Hoffryn gave you the spell just like that. That sure doesn't sound like the D'Hoffryn I know."

"Well, he did say there might be a peculiar effect or two, but nothing to really worry about."

"If we're going to do this, then let's do it," Buffy told them, not wanting to hear any more negatives about her excursion.

Willow poured sacred sand in a circle around Buffy and her supplies, lit incense, and began chanting in the proto-Sumerian.

And with no fanfare, no flashes of light, no sound, Buffy simply disappeared.

It was early morning when Buffy left Sunnydale, but she could tell now it was almost sunset.

"Great! Just great!" Buffy said as she took stock of her things. "No tent, no sleeping bag, no food, no water! You're a real comedian, aren't you, D'Hoffryn!" she yelled out. "Where are my freakin' CLOTHES!"

Chapter Five

"You know, Xena, this was pretty good day."

"How so?"

"Well, we didn't have to fight off any robbers. No warlords are making trouble, at least, none that we've heard about, anyway. The weather's nice. And we're making good time to the Amazon camp. Yep, this was a very, very good day."

"You're not trying to jinx us are you? You know what happens whenever you start talking about how good things are going."

"By the gods, you're right! Me and my big mouth!"

"Well, it's almost dark. Maybe the day will end peacefully."

But just as she got the words out of her mouth, Xena stiffened, her eyes and ears searching and listening. She slowly moved her hand, resting it on the handle of her sword.

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked quietly. By now she knew Xena's subtle moves.

"Not sure."

"Did you hear something?"

"No. Can't see anything, either. But every once in a while, when the wind shifts, I smell something – different."

"Different how? Like an evil spirit?"

Xena shook her head.

"Something sweet, but nothing I've ever smelled before."

Together they sat quietly, listening to the muted sounds of the night, looking past the darkening trees around them, and sniffing the cooling night air.

"Peculiar effect or two, my ass!" Buffy said disgusted. "We should have listened to Anya. We should have known not to trust a lower demon, especially someone like D'Hoffryn."

Buffy looked around, trying to get some kind of bearing.

"Well, at least I'm in the woods. I suppose it could have been worse. I could have appeared in the middle of a village. Or the desert. Or a volcano."

Buffy slowly turned in a circle, trying to decide which direction to go. There was no clear cut path, but the trees were far enough apart, with very little underbrush, so she could go in almost any direction.

She close her eyes, concentrating, letting her Slayer senses do the choosing for her. She listened to every sound. Felt for any vibration through the ground. And took long, slow breaths through her nose, sniffing the air.

Then the wind shift brought the faint smell of smoke. Buffy turned in the direction it came.

"Where there's smoke, there may be a campfire. And just maybe it's Xena's."

Buffy cautiously made her way toward the smoke, listening intently for voices, and using all of her Slayer abilities to remain undetected.

She saw the campfire before she could hear their voices, but there were definitely two women sitting near it, one blond and one with dark hair.

Buffy slowed her advance when the dark-haired one's manner changed – she stiffened, and her voice lowered with apprehension.

Buffy stopped behind a tree a several yards from them. She could now hear their conversation.

"Did you hear something?" The blond woman, who was facing her, asked.

"No. Can't see anything, either. But every once in a while, when the wind shifts, I smell something – different."

"Different how? Like an evil spirit?"

The one with dark hair, whose back was to Buffy, shook her head.

"Something sweet, but nothing I've ever smelled before."

'My shampoo,' Buffy thought to herself. 'If her sense of smell is THAT good, she must be Xena.'

After several seconds, Buffy took a deep breath, and stepped out from behind the tree, and unwaveringly, walked toward the two women.

Xena immediately spun around and got to her feet in one smooth motion, her sword in hand, ready to strike.

Buffy threw up her hands.

"I’m not armed!" She shouted out. "No weapons! No – nothing!"

Despite the sword pointed in her direction, Buffy continued to walk toward Xena until she was within arm's reach of the weapon.

"Xena, the Warrior Princess, I presume?"

"You presume right."

Buffy looked past Xena at Gabrielle, who was now standing, a staff in her hands, ready to back Xena up, if necessary.

"And I presume you are Gabrielle?"

"That's right. Who are you? And where are your clothes?"

"That's kind of a long story. You wouldn't happen to have something I could put on, would you? Or maybe something I could wrap around me, like a blanket or something?"

Xena hesitated, then slowly lowered her sword, but remained alert to the first sign of hostility.

"I might have something that would fit you," Gabrielle said.

"Anything would be great, really, anything at all."

Gabrielle took a knee-length skirt and a blouse from a leather pouch and tossed them to Buffy. She still was too unsure to get too close to her. Buffy quickly put on the clothes.

"I don't have any shoes, or boots," Gabrielle told her.

"This is fine. Thank you. Really. Thank you."

Buffy slowly walked to the fire, appreciating its warmth. The night was cooling down in a hurry.

"You never did say who you are," Xena said. "Or why you are in the middle of the forest with no clothes on."

"Were you robbed?" Gabrielle asked.

Buffy hesitated, but then decided the truth would be best.

"Well, first off, my name is Buffy. And I yes, my clothes were stolen from me, by a sorry, no good, piece of demon trash named D'Hoffryn."

Chapter Six

"A demon stole your clothes." Xena was skeptical. "And just what use would a demon have for YOUR clothes?"

"Well, he didn't exactly STEAL them, he just made them disappear."

"And I suppose he had a good reason? Doesn't sound like any demon I've ever heard of."

"What kind of demon was he? You know, I've never really seen a REAL demon. But I've heard stories about them," Gabrielle said.

"Just a demon. A – a boss demon, I guess you could say."

"You're not very forthcoming with answers," Xena said, as she moved her sword in a non-threatening way, yet was definitely a warning.

"Maybe she's hungry. I'm sure she'll have plenty to say after she fills her belly." Gabrielle said.

"Actually, I'm not hungry. I ate breakfast not too long ago."

"You eat breakfast at sundown?" Xena asked, becoming more and more suspicious of this stranger.

"Breakfast, lunch, supper. Who's to say you can't eat them whenever you want?"

By now Xena's sword was back up, pointing at Buffy's midsection. But Gabrielle put her hand on top of Xena's, gently pushing it back down.

"Now, let's not be hasty. She's obviously not a threat, maybe just a little confused. If she's not hungry, then maybe a good night's sleep might help."

"Well, I'm not very sleepy either. I've only been up a little while."

"You sleep during the day?"

Despite Gabrielle's efforts, Xena's sword had risen again, but this time its point was neck high.

"Either you start talking, and giving us some REAL answers, or this day is going to end very badly for you."

Buffy wasn't too worried about the sword, but she didn't want to fight if there was no reason to.

"Sure. Do you mind if we sit? And I wouldn't mind a drink of water first."

Gabrielle handed Buffy a water skin. Buffy uncorked it, sniffed the water, then drank down a mouthful. It wasn't as bad as she expected. Then she found a 'comfortable' spot near the fire, and began.

"Like I said, my name is Buffy Summers . . . ."

"You have two names?" Gabrielle asked. "Why?"

"Where I come from everyone has two names, sometimes three, or even four."

"Why?"

"Because there are so many of us, it would be too confusing otherwise."

"Where DO you come from?" Xena asked.

"The city is called Sunnydale, and that's in a state called California."

"Never heard of them."

"Well, they're pretty far away. To the west."

"Italia?" Gabrielle asked.

"Farther than that."

"Britannia?"

"Farther than that. Much, much farther!"

"There's nothing farther than Britannia, only the great Unexplored Sea." Xena contradicted her.

"Well, actually, there is. There is a whole other continent. Two of them to be exact, one north and one south, that have yet to be discovered. And California is on the west coast of the northern one."

"You must really think we're stupid," Xena said, not sure if she should be angry or feel pity for this obviously insane woman.

"But that's not the half of it. I also am from the future. I'm not sure exactly how far in the future, but around 2000 years, give or take a decade or two."

Gabrielle leaned over to Xena and whispered, "I understand now. She escaped from some kind of institution for people like her, you know, not right in the head. That's why she was naked."

Xean nodded in agreement.

Buffy smiled. Of course, what else would they think?

"There is one more thing – I came here looking for the Warrior Princess."

"So you found me, so what?"

"Well – I would never have heard of you except two of my good friends read about you."

"Oh?"

"In Gabrielle's scrolls."

"WHAT?" Gabrielle exclaimed. "That can't be! I have them right here with me. No one even knows they exist."

"Maybe not now, but 2000 years from now they will. Well, nerdy scholars will, anyway."

"I don't believe you."

"Then how did I know about them?"

"So how many do I have?"

"Right now? I have no idea, but Willow said they found something like twenty five of them."

"Twenty five! I've only written nine so far."

"Then I guess you'll write another sixteen."

"Where did they find them?" Xena asked.

"Some cave somewhere here in Greece."

"I can't believe it," Gabrielle said, almost out of breath. "MY scrolls, being found, and READ, 2000 years from now. We were talking about that a few days ago! I just can't believe it!"

"Neither can I," Xena snapped.

Chapter Seven

With no fanfare, no flashes of light, no sound, Buffy simply disappeared, but left within the circle of sacred sand her clothes, the tent, the sleeping bag, the water, the food . . . and the amulet!

"Oh, god!" Willow exclaimed. "What happened? I don't understand!"

"Well, you said D'Hoffryn told you there were going to be a couple of peculiar effects," Anya said. "I think we just saw one."

"Willow, you have to do something!" Dawn ordered her. "You can't just leave here there with no way to come home."

"I – I don't know what to do."

"You have to go back to see D'Hoffryn. You have to get a spell to bring her back!"

"Yes! You're right. I'll do that."

"When you do," Anya told her, "be very careful how you ask. D'Hoffryn isn't one to give out favors like peanuts on beer night."

Willow nodded.

"You want me to come with?" Tara asked.

"Do you think he would mind?" Willow asked Anya.

Anya shrugged her shoulders.

"Who knows? If he's in a good mood, I don't see a problem. But if he isn't, he just might decide to kill one, or both, of you."

"Thanks! That makes me feel a WHOLE lot better."

"You asked."

Willow brought out her amulet and began the sing-song chant. And as before, just as the last word was said, she and Tara found themselves in the anteroom of D'Hoffryn's underealm domain. But unlike her previous visit, no one was there. After hesitantly calling out, a little louder each time, they decided they were being ignored, which was much better than being killed. So they returned to Buffy's dining room.

"So now what?" Dawn wanted to know. "How are you going to get her back?"

"I'm . . . not sure."

"Can't you do a spell? Surely there must be tons of spells for situations like this. Anya? Right?"

"Oh, sure. There's probably hundreds of them. But finding them is the problem. If they were just laying around for anyone to find and to use, then everyone would be doing it."

"What if you change the words around? Would that work?"

"I don't know. I've been trying, but I'm can't remember the original spell. And before you ask, the page it was written on disappeared when Buffy did."

"Another 'little peculiarity' ," Anya said. "I guess she's gone for good."

"Don't say that!" Dawn shouted at her. "Don't even THINK it! We're going to get her back. We just have to figure out how."

"If I could remember the spell, maybe I could at least send her things to her, and the amulet."

By now Buffy could tell that Xena's patience was running out.

"Okay, ask me anything, anything at all. And I'll try my best to answer as truthfully as I can."

"Or as truthfully as you want?" Xena shot back.

Buffy held up three fingers, Girl Scout style. "I swear to tell the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me, whatever god or gods you swear to."

Xena still didn't trust her, and kept her sword close at hand.

"Why were you looking for me?"

"Because we – my friends and I, were thinking you might be a Slayer."

"You came from the future because you thought I killed people?"

"No. In this case a Slayer is a good thing. Do you know what vampires are?"

"I thought I was asking the questions."

"I can't answer them unless I know what you know. Otherwise they wouldn't make any sense to you."

"No, I have never heard of vampires. Gabrielle?"

"No, never have."

"Well, to begin with, vampires have fangs – here."

Buffy used her two little fingers to point to her canine teeth, showing which teeth were fangs.

"And they use these fangs to bite into your neck -- here."

She pointed to the spot where the jugular vein ran just under the skin.

"And they suck the blood from you, and you die."

Gabrielle was shaking her head. "Nothing I've ever heard of."

"I have," Xena said. "The Bacchae. They do that. They drink the blood of their victims in order to live. They're disciples of the god Bacchus."

"Well, they could be vampires who have associated themselves with this Bacchus to make it easier to find their victims."

"And they're women only, no men."

"There are women vamps. I guess they've joined this guy's cult."

"So what to they have to do with Slayers?"

"Slayers hunt and kill them."

"Kill them? Just like that?" Gabrielle asked.

"Pretty much. Slayers use a wooden stake to the heart, or cut off their heads . . . ."

"That would kill a lot of things," Xena interrupted.

"And sunlight. It causes them to burst into flames. That's why they hunt for their victims only at night."

Chapter Eight

Without warning, Gabrielle yawned.

"It must be later than I realized," she said. "As interesting as all of this is, I think I'm ready to bed down for the night."

"You go on to sleep," Xena told her. "I'm still not sure what to do with HER."

"What do you mean?" Buffy asked, irritated.

"How can I sleep, not knowing who you are? For all we know, you could try to kill us while we sleep."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because certain warlords have put out bounties on me, dead or alive. You might be after the money."

"Xena, do you honestly think she could kill us, kill YOU, that easy? You wake up if a suspicious leaf falls to the ground."

"I suppose I could tie her hands and feet."

"I don't think so," Buffy said.

"Xena, come on. She's done nothing to make us distrust her."

Xena looked at Gabrielle in disbelief, but said nothing.

"I trust her, Xena. Isn't that good enough?"

Xena looked back and forth between them, then shook her head.

"All right," she said to Gabrielle. Then to Buffy she said, "But just so you'll know, I am a VERY light sleeper."

"I'll keep that in mind."

Gabrielle settled down under a blanket for the night. Xena tossed an extra one to Buffy, then laid down holding the handle of her sword. Even though she wasn't sleepy, Buffy wrapped the blanket around her and also laid down.

It was a long night for both Buffy and Xena; neither one slept very much. Buffy was listening to the sounds of the night, and Xena was listening for any movement by Buffy.

When Gabrielle woke up the next morning, Xena and Buffy were sitting on opposite sides of the campfire, not blatantly staring at each other, but well aware of the other. She just shook her head, went to relieve herself, then began preparing breakfast.

"NOW are you hungry?" Gabrielle asked Buffy, offering some warmed up stew and hard cheese. Buffy accepted the flat wooden plate and the cheese. After dishing out portions for herself and Xena, Gabrielle sat next to Buffy.

"So, what's it like – in the future?"

"In some ways it's wonderful, and in other ways, it's terrible."

"How so?"

"In many parts of the world hunger is no longer a problem, and diseases have been controlled. People are living longer thanks to advances in medicine and sanitation."

"They still make war?" Xena asked.

"Unfortunately. But with more horrendous weapons. Cities are bigger, buildings are taller, and more and more people crowd into them. Millions of people."

"How do they feed them all?" Gabrielle asked.

"Large, extra large, tremendously large farms, and cattle ranches, and facilities to process and distribute the food."

"What about stealing, and murder? Do they still do that?"

"Oh yes. There are still thieves and muggers and gangs around, just waiting to prey on the weak and the helpless."

"Well, it's good to know we'll always have jobs, right boys?" a gruff voice said.

Xena was instantly on her feet, her sword drawn and ready. Gabrielle was also up, with her staff poised to strike.

Buffy got to her feet as well, and noticed that Gabrielle seemed to be trying to position herself between the gang of thieves and her. While they were distracted by Buffy's description of the future, they had been surrounded by six thugs.

"Just walk away," Xena said quietly. "Walk away and thank the gods today you didn't die."

"Can't do it. My boys haven't so much as touched a woman in a long, long time."

"From the smell, I know why."

"But that's all going to change," he said. "Get 'em!" he yelled out.

All six of the men attacked, but Xena's sword made short work of the first two, knocking them out with the flat of her sword against the sides of their heads.

Gabrielle was able to fend off one and then the second by smashing her staff against their vulnerable knees.

Xena side-kicked the leader, sending him stumbling back and down, but he instantly was up and attacking again.

The fifth man went after Buffy, but a jumping roundhouse kick knocked him unconscious.

The last man was trying to impale Gabrielle with his short spear. She was able to knock it aside with her staff, but only after the point sliced her upper arm.

Buffy was there to kick upward on the spear, knocking it a short ways up into the air. As it came down, she grabbed it, and spinning around, stabbed him back-handed through the heart. The force of it sent the short spear through him until the point was sticking six inches out of his back.

Seeing their attempt was futile, the ones who were able, ran off, thankful to be alive.

Both Xena and Gabrielle were looking down at the man Buffy had killed; looking at the shaft of the spear sticking out of his chest.

Chapter Nine

"How curious," Xena said. "You stabbed him right through the heart."

"I guess I did," Buffy answered. "I didn't mean to, it just -- happened."

"It's almost like you've done that before – no hesitation, hit the mark the first time."

"Are you one of those Slayers?" Gabrielle asked.

"Of course she is," Xena answered, then slowly raised her sword again.

"You really don't need to do that," Buffy said. "I certainly don't want to fight you."

"Why didn't you tell us you're one of them?" Xena asked. "You said you were going to answer my questions truthfully."

"Well, I didn't actually lie. I just left out that part."

"A lie of exclusion is still a lie!"

"You're right. It is. And I'm sorry. But since I have some – unusual abilities, I didn't want you to think I was any kind of threat."

"What kind of abilities?" Gabrielle wanted to know.

"Strength, speed, acute hearing and sense of smell, and accelerated healing."

"So, just how strong are you?" Xena asked.

"The legend says that Slayers have the strength of ten men."

"That, uh – that's pretty strong." Gabrielle said.

"What's that thing about the healing?" Xena asked.

"Accelerated healing. It means that any cuts or bruises I get heal up much faster than normal."

"How fast?"

"Well, that cut Gabrielle has – if I was cut like that, it would be completely healed by tonight."

"Really?" Xena said, then suddenly slashed at Buffy's upper left arm, intending to slice it open. But Buffy's right hand caught the end of the sword scant inches from her flesh, and held it tight.

"You ARE fast!" Gabrielle commented.

"You can let go of my sword," Xena said, impressed despite herself.

Buffy hesitated a few seconds, then pulled it toward herself, and cut herself exactly where Xena had intended to. She then released the sword.

"If anyone's going to cut me, it's going to be me."

Xena and Buffy locked eyes for a few seconds, then as she turned away, Xena said, "Gabrielle, let me look at that cut."

As the mini-confrontation between Xena and Buffy was happening, the three unconscious thugs began to stir, then tried to skulk away.

While she tended to Gabrielle, Xena said, "Take THAT with you." And she nodded her head toward the dead man.

"He ain't no good to me now," the leader said.

"You can take him, or you can join him." Xena was in no mood to be argued with.

The three of them picked up their dead comrade and carried him off through the woods.

Buffy washed her wound as Xena bandaged Gabrielle's arm, then asked, "So now what?"

"What do you mean?"

"Can I stay with you guys for a while, or do I have to leave? . . . Oh, CRAP!"

"What's the matter?" Gabrielle asked.

"I just realized my amulet's gone, too."

"What amulet?"

"I was supposed to have an amulet with words on the back of it I was to say when I was ready to go home. But apparently, it disappeared with the rest of my things."

"Then I guess you can travel with us," Gabrielle told her.

"She can?"

"Can't she?"

"Why?"

"Why not? Xena, she doesn't have any provisions. She doesn't know anyone. Where's she supposed to go?"

Xena had a very irritated look on her face.

"Look, I don't want to cause any problems. And I sure don't want to come between you two. I'm pretty resourceful. Just point me to a town and I'll be okay."

"Xena," Gabrielle pleaded, "she DID save my life, kind of. We can't just abandon her."

Xean took a deep breath, shook her head, then said, "All right, if Gabrielle wants you along, fine. But you're going to pull your own weight."

"I'm as strong as ten men, just tell me what you want me to do."

Xena tossed two almost empty water skins to her.

"There is a stream off that way. Fill them up."

"No problem," Buffy answered and headed in the direction Xena indicated.

As Gabrielle began to break camp, Xena started grooming Argo.

"She's good. She's really good." Xena said almost to herself. "Even Argo didn't sense her sneaking up on us."

Gabrielle smiled but didn't say anything. She was beginning to like this Buffy, this Slayer from the future.

Chapter Ten

"No, no, no, no, NO!" Anya said, looking at Dawn, Giles, Willow, Tara and Xander. "I am NOT going down THERE looking for D'Hoffryn! If he doesn't want to be found, he won't be."

"But you have to," Willow said. "We've gone looking for him three times now, and even his demon minions won't say anything."

"I'm sorry, but no. I have no powers. I could be killed. I could be maimed. Or worse! And no, we are not going together. Even your powers can't stand up to D'Hoffryn's. Why can't you people understand – D'Hoffryn is not very happy with me, and I'd just as soon stay as far away from him as possible."

"So, we're just supposed to let Buffy rot away and die 2000 years ago?" Dawn asked.

"Well, she'll die first, then rot away."

"That's not even funny. We HAVE to get her back!"

"I agree with Dawn," Giles said. "We have to do something, Anya. And as much as I hate to admit it, right now you look to be our only hope."

"Well, looks can be deceiving. I am no one's hope."

"Come on, Sweetie…." Xander started to say.

"NO! I said no and I meant no. And no amount of pleading or begging or sweet talk is going to change my mind. Look, I want Buffy back as much as the rest of you do, kind of, but I'm not going to risk my life on a fool's errand. You'll just have to find another way."

"Any suggestions?" Dawn asked. "You're the so-called expert on temporary folds."

"Temporal – temporal folds."

"Whatever. You still claim to be the specialist in time traveling spells."

"I never said any such a thing. I said D'Hoffryn knew a spell -- 'A' spell. And it worked, mostly. What about you, Giles? You have all those books hidden away. Don't they have something in them? Something that's actually USEFUL?"

Before Giles could answer, the door to the shop opened, ringing the bell..

"You all will have to excuse me," Anya told them. "We have a paying customer I need to see to."

While Anya was tending to the customer, Dawn asked Willow, "Isn't there ANYTHING you can do? As powerful as you are, and all the spells you know and you can't bring Buffy back?"

She sadly shook her head. "I wish I could. But some things are even beyond my capabilities."

"Well, that's great! That's just freakin' great!"

"Do you guys always walk? Or is it because I'm along and there isn't room for three on the horse?"

"Mostly we walk," Gabrielle answered. "I don't especially like being way up there. I'm not much for heights. But if it's an emergency and we have to get to, or away from, some place in a hurry, then I'll ride behind Xena."

While they were walking, Buffy and Gabrielle were ahead of Xena and Argo. Xena was carefully listening to their conversation. She wanted to know as much about Buffy as she could, and by letting her talk, and asking questions, she would eventually figure out why she was here, and what she REALLY wanted.

"So, tell me more about the future. You mentioned they still made war, but what about the arts? You know, music, poetry, the theater."

"We still have those things. Well, maybe not poetry so much. But there are book stores all over the place."

"Books?"

"They're like your pieces of parchment, but they're bound together along one side so you can turn the pages while you read."

"That's a clever idea," Gabrielle said, then turned to look at Xena. "Don't you think so, Xena?"

"Wonderful."

"I sense some hostility from Xena. I guess she still doesn't trust me, or want me here."

"It sometimes takes a while. I think she's just unsure about this Slayer thing. Do you really think she might be one?"

"That's why I came here, to find out. But also to find out about you."

"What about me?"

"Well, all Slayers have Watchers, and as far as we knew, they were always men. But since we know nothing about Slayers and Watchers from this time period, we thought that you might be Xena's Watcher."

"So what do these Watchers do, just watch?"

"They locate the Slayers when they're called, and then guide them and train them."

"HAH!" Xena laughed out loud. "Gabrielle couldn't train a dog!"

Gabrielle looked back at Xena, a wounded look on her face, but didn't say anything.

Sensing Gabrielle's hurt, Buffy said, "But even if you aren't a Watcher, your scrolls have provided us with a valuable account of a piece of history we knew nothing about."

Gabrielle gave Buffy a small, appreciative smile.

"So what about those weapons you talked about?" Xena asked. "Pretty lethal?"

"Unfortunately. The most common weapon shoots out slugs of metal, bullets, about the size of the end of your finger. And it can keep shooting them as fast or faster than you can blink until you run out. Then you reload and start shooting again."

"Sounds pretty awful," Gabrielle observed.

"What's the range of these 'bullets'?"

"I don't know exactly, but I would guess they can travel at least twice as far as arrows, and maybe five to ten times faster. We also have airplanes that fly through the air and drop bombs so powerful that each one can destroy huge chunks of a city."

"They drop these on innocent men, women and children?" Gabrielle was horrified.

"When it comes to making war, no one has any conscience, and no one is safe."

"And they still make war with horrific weapons like that?" Gabrielle was still having trouble comprehending. "What could they possibly fight about?"

"Probably the same things you do here – land, natural resources, religion, insane leaders who want to rule the world."

Chapter Eleven

"What about hypnotism?" Dawn asked Willow.

"Do you know any hypnotists?"

"There was one on TV. He could make people remember all kind of stuff."

"Oh! Was he the one who made that guy dance around like a ballerina while he was singing the Star Spangled Banner backwards?" Anya asked.

"I don't think he was the same one," Tara answered. "But that WAS funny."

"Can't we call the TV station and find out who he is and call him?"

"Those are just parlor tricks, Dawn," Giles told her. "Designed for the entertainment of the less academically inclined masses."

"It looked real enough."

"But if we COULD find a real hypnotism guy, couldn't he make Willow remember the spell?" Xander chimed in.

"Well, I'm not sure. I suppose he might, unless the memory of it was somehow connected to the spell itself."

"You guys are talking about me like I'm not even here! Maybe I don't WANT to be hypnotized. Maybe there are things in my brain I'd just as soon none of you knew anything about."

"About you and Tara, huh?" Xander asked. "Intimate, sexy things!"

"Can it, Harris!" Anya said angrily. "You don't broadcast your sick fantasies in front of your girlfriend. It's just – vulgar!"

"You know, Willow, that might be our only alternative. And certainly you can trust us not to allow the hypnotist to invade your private thoughts. I'll only be searching for a very specific memory."

"I? -- YOU can hypnotize people?"

"Well, as the progeny of a line of Watchers, I have had some very thorough and very intensive schooling in connection with my duties of training and guiding my Slayer."

"Sounds to me like they were teaching you how to brainwash Buffy." Anya commented dryly.

"Oh. Well. That makes me feel a WHOLE lot better." Willow said unenthusiastically.

"Are you guys heading anywhere in particular, or just wandering around?"

From behind her, Xena asked, "Why is it you keep referring to us as guys? Do we look like men to you ?"

"Oh, it's just a thing we say where I come from. For some reason it sounds less sexist to call females 'guys' rather than 'girls'."

"Yeah, THAT makes a lot of sense!"

"What do you mean, sexist?" Gabrielle asked.

"I don't know. There's this whole thing about men not referring to women as 'girls' because it sounds condescending and chauvinistic."

"But we ARE girls – grown up girls."

"Hey, it's just a future thing. Nothing you guy—nothing either one of you will ever have to worry about."

Suddenly Xena mounted up. "I'm going to scout ahead," she said as she rode past them.

"Don't mind her," Gabrielle said. "Sometimes she gets in these moods."

Buffy nodded in understanding, but she knew she was the cause of the friction between the two of them.

"You never did say where you guys were going."

"To the Amazon camp. We're only a couple of days away."

"In one of Giles' books there was a mention of an Amazon queen in connection with the Chakram."

"That must be me! I'm an Amazon queen!"

"So why aren't you there now? Don't they need a leader?"

"It's kind of a long story, and kind of interesting, if you want to hear it."

"Sure I do. That's why I'm here – to learn all I can about you and Xena, and everything else."

"Well, I guess it starts out when Xena and I were walking through the Amazon hunting grounds. . . ."

As they walked, Gabrielle told the story as if she were putting on a play, including sound effects, the different voices of the Amazons and Xena, and acting out some of the action scenes.

Gabrielle was right, it was an interesting story. And it gave Buffy a better understanding of how these people entertained themselves. Gabrielle was a very good story teller.

". . . And since we were heading in the general direction anyway, I asked Xena if she wouldn't mind stopping off for a few days, just to see how things are going."

"And to remind them of who the REAL queen is?"

Gabrielle smiled a sly smile.

"Well, yeah, I guess so."

"Do you always have to ask Xena for permission to do something?"

"No, not all the time. But if it's something that affects both of us, then I usually do."

"And does she afford you the same courtesy?"

"Not always, but she's getting better."

"You know, I was thinking, that if I'm going to be stuck here for a while, it would be really great if I could actually see some of the great ruins of my time while they're still in one piece."

"Like what?"

"Like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Acropolis, the Parthenon. You know, the really famous landmarks."

"Well, the Collosseum and Pantheon are in Rome, or didn't you know that?"

"Yeah, I knew that, I was just throwing out some names."

"So they're still around in your time? Even after all those years? How do they look?"

"Like ruins. Broken down, falling apart, kind of like the bleached bones of some giant monster."

Chapter Twelve

"But you know what would really kill me?"

"A sharp stick through the heart?"

Buffy and Gabrielle quickly turned around. Xena had come up behind them.

"Xena! You scared me!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "Where did you come from?"

But Buffy knew. She wasn't paying attention so she wasn't aware of Xena behind them, but she knew why. She was proving to Gabrielle that her stalking skills were just as good as Buffy's

"You were saying?" Xena asked, ignoring Gabrielle.

"I was saying that it would be just my luck that after I've learned and seen so much here, that when I go back home, I'd forget everything."

"Where's Argo?" Gabrielle wasn't going to be ignored.

Xena whistled and her horse came galloping up to them, and they began their trek again.

"You haven't told us very much about you Slayers," Xena commented. "Is there some reason, some deep, dark secret you don't want us to know about?"

"Not much to tell. When one Slayer dies, another is called. And she battles the forces of darkness until she's killed, and then the next one is called. And so on and on."

"How many of you are running around battling all these dark forces?"

"Just one at a time. The official line is, 'In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.' "

"Doesn’t make much sense having just one."

"I didn't make the rules."

"Are all Slayers female?" Gabrielle asked.

"Everyone of us. And I don't know why."

"Anything else?"

"No, that's just about everything. But tell me, when did you get your abilities? If they came all at once then it could be you ARE a Slayer."

"They just developed over the years as I was leading my army."

"You had an army?"

"Yes. There was a time when I as cruel and as merciless and any warlord. But thanks to Hercules, I started following a different path."

"Hercules? THE Hercules? The half-god Hercules? With all the muscles?"

"Yes, that Hercules. Why, do you think I’m lying?"

"No, not at all. It's just that – well, I guess all myths have a germ of truth behind them."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Like that guy Bacchus. You said he was a god. But I'm sure he was just a very charismatic leader, or maybe a vampire, whose followers thought of him as a god. And I'm sure it was the same thing for your Hercules."

"So you're saying you don't believe in the gods? That they're not real?"

"Of course they're not real. Look, every culture, every group of people has their gods they pray to, but anyone who looks at it logically knows they're not real, not really real."

"Believe me, the gods are real. I've met, and I've fought Ares, the god of war."

"Oh, come on Xena, you can't be serious! That makes no sense on so many levels, I don't even know how to respond."

"It's true," Gabrielle said. "Even I've seen him."

"Not you, too. Gabrielle, I really thought you, of all people, wouldn't be taken in by this god nonsense."

"And just what is THAT supposed to mean? That Gabrielle is so smart and I'm so stupid?"

Buffy realized she was starting to alienate both of them.

"No, I don't mean that at all. Let's just say I'm the kind of gal who has to see things for herself before she believes it."

They walked on for a bit, then Gabrielle said, "So you don't believe in love?"

"What?" Buffy asked.

"I mean, you can't see it, or touch it, smell it. So that must mean you don't believe there is a thing called love."

"Of course I believe in love."

"But how do you know it's real?"

"I can feel it. It's in my heart."

"Then maybe all those people feel their gods in their hearts, too."

Buffy took a breath. She knew Gabrielle had a valid point, but never answered.

As the sun reached its zenith, Xena suggested they stop for a short rest. She wasn't tired, and she knew Gabrielle wasn't, but she was concerned about Buffy walking with bare feet on the forest floor. But when she asked about them, Buffy insisted they were fine, they were toughening up as she walked – more of that accelerated healing.

Xena had taken off her scabbard and had unclipped her Chakram.

"So that's the famous Chakram, huh?" Buffy held out her hand. "Can I see it?"

"No."

"Then will you hold it up so I can look at it?"

Xena hesitated, then held it up, turning it so Buffy could see both sides.

"You know," Buffy said, "there wasn't much of a description of it. About all we knew was that it was some kind of weapon, and that it was a disk. But a ring makes more sense. Probably easier to throw."

"And to catch."

"How would you catch it?"

"Whenever she throws it, it comes back to her," Gabrielle explained. "Unless it gets wedged into a tree or something."

"It comes back to you? Like a boomerang?"

"I have no idea what a boomer-thing is," Xena said.

"It's a curved, flat piece of wood that you throw, and it comes back to you if it doesn't hit anything. It's used mostly for hunting, I think."

Chapter Thirteen

"Did you make that Chakram? It's beautiful."

"No, it was a gift."

"Boyfriend? Lover?"

"Ares gave it to her," Gabrielle said.

Despite her skepticism, Buffy played along.

"Why would the god of war give you a gift like that?"

"I'm not really sure. He never said. He just showed up one afternoon and handed it to me. I guess it was to keep me loyal. Or maybe as a reward."

"I think it's because he has a thing for you," Gabrielle added.

"He DOESN'T have a THING for me," Xena growled.

Gabrielle didn't answer, but smiled and nodded to Buffy that he did.

"A reward for what?"

"For making war, and winning. Ares finds the most ruthless and cold blooded warlords, recruits them, and then makes sure they are loyal to him."

"So you had an army?"

Xena nodded.

"A good one?"

"We were undefeated. And the only time we ever fought to a draw was against the centaurs."

"Centaurs, too, huh? Well, he did a good job on it. I guess he's pretty handy when it comes to making weapons."

"He didn't make it. I think Haephestus did."

"I know that name, but I can't place it."

"He's the god who forges the weapons of the gods, including Zeus' thunderbolts. I suspect Ares stole it from him."

"So if Ares gave you the Chakram, then you two must be pretty close."

"We were, at one time."

"Any chance I could, you know, meet him?"

"Why would you want to do that?"

"Why wouldn't I? You do know how to get in contact with him, don't you?"

"All she has to do is call out his name," Gabrielle volunteered. "He always shows up."

"Like, in a puff of smoke?"

"More like a flash of light."

"So, how about it?"

"Other than proving to you he actually exists, I really don't see any reason to."

"Isn't that reason enough?"

"I don't think you realize that a god, any god, and especially a war god, isn't someone to call on just to be doing it. Ares is a VERY dangerous god, and he angers easily."

"So you're afraid of him?"

"Hah! Me? Afraid of Ares? Not likely."

"Then – call him. If you don't mind."

Xena shook her head, then yelled out, "Ares! A-r-e-s!"

There was a bright flash of light, tinged with red, that disappeared almost instantly. In it's place stood the God of War, dressed in black leather, a black goatee, and sporting a very large and very dangerous looking sword.

"Xena! You're looking well."

Ares glanced at Gabrielle then back to Xena. "So what can I do for you today," he asked, the sarcasm dripping like honey.

"Want you to meet someone, or, rather, someone wants to meet you. Ares, this is Buffy."

Ares turned to Buffy, then hesitated, staring at her.

"You have power," he said. "And strength, a lot of strength, for a mortal. I’m not quite sure about you. You're not a god, or a demi-god. But you're not just a mere mortal, either."

"I'm a Slayer, a vampire Slayer. And I received my powers when the Slayer before me was killed."

"Vampires? Disgusting creatures"

"Well, that's my job, my Calling – to hunt down and kill as many of them as I can."

Ares, ignoring Buffy, turned back to Xena.

"You know, Xena, she's stronger than you are."

"Really."

"Maybe twice, three times as strong."

"So?"

"I can make you stronger."

"Forget it, Ares."

"In fact, I can make you as strong as Hercules. Even stronger."

"It won't work."

"Excuse me here, but I think I had the floor," Buffy said.

Ares turned back to Buffy.

"Did you WANT something?"

"Actually, I did. You're a god, right? I mean, you can do anything, anything at all?"

"Of course I can. What's your point?"

"Well, I'm not from around here. I'm not even from this time. I'm from the future, a couple thousand years in the future."

Ares took another look at her, analyzing her.

"There is something different about you. Something out of place."

"Exactly! And I was thinking that since you ARE a god, it should be easy for you to send me back to my own time."

"And just why would I want to do that?"

"Well, you see, where I come from you gods have been supplanted by another god, a single supreme deity, creator of all things in heaven and earth. And you gods have been relegated to mythology. Just stories of a past long gone. But since I've met you, and know you're really real, then if you send me back I can spread the word that you really do exist."

Buffy paused for a few seconds.

"Although, come to think of it, I wonder where all of you went?"

"No followers, no gods," Xena said. "Just that simple."

Chapter Fourteen

"So, what do you say?" Buffy asked. "Send me back?"

Ares had a troubled look on his face.

"So, no one worships us in the future? When did that happen?"

"I really can't say since I don't know how far in my past I am. But from what I gathered from my friends before I came here, I am guessing it's about 2000 years, which is just about the time it more or less started."

"You wouldn't happen to know WHERE it started, would you? Or WHO?"

"I'm not exactly sure, but if I was in my correct time, I could find out for you."

"So if I send you back to where you came from, you'd make sure I got the information."

"Sure."

"And just how are you planning on doing that?"

"Well, I have to admit, it's something we'd have to figure out."

"I see."

Ares got a condescending smile on his face.

"I don't want you to think that I don't trust you, or anything, but I don't trust you."

"Well, what if you send me home just out of the goodness of your heart?"

Ares looked at Xena. "She DOES know who I am, doesn't she?"

"She knows. She just doesn't KNOW you."

Ares thought for a few moments.

"I'll tell you what. I'll send you home if Xena agrees to join me and to lead the most magnificent army ever created."

"Well, Buffy," Xena said. "It looks like you'll be traveling with us after all."

"I tried," Ares said. "If you can convince her, my offer still stands."

And he disappeared in a flash of light.

"You didn't REALLY think he would send you home, did you?" Gabrielle asked.

"No, but it was worth a shot."

"So what did you think of the god of war?"

"To tell you the truth, I was kind of disappointed. I figured he'd be twice, maybe three times as big as he is. And more – godly."

"Maybe that why people stopped believing in him," Gabrielle surmised.

"I think we should be moving on," Xena said. "We ought be in Amazon lands by midday tomorrow."

As they started out, Gabrielle once again walked beside Buffy and Xena and Argo brought up the rear.

"What was that you said about getting your powers after another Slayer died?"

"That's the way it works – one dies and another is Chosen to take up the fight."

"So, who died when you became one?"

"I have no idea. And I never wanted to know. No one knows who the next one will be. That's the job of the Council of Watchers. When a Watcher tells them his Slayer has died -- was killed, they have the resources to find the new one."

"But why only one? And are they always female?"

"That's the way it was set up, only one Slayer at a time. And don't ask me why. I don't think even the Watchers know. And as far as Slayers only being female, again, no one knows. Maybe it's because we have a higher tolerance for pain."

"Not me. I hate pain!"

"I'm not exactly in love with it, either, but it comes with the job."

Gabrielle moved the sleeve on Buffy's left arm to look at the cut.

"That's amazing. I WILL be healed by nightfall."

Buffy turned back to look at Xena.

"What about your injuries, Xena? How fast do they heal up?"

"Pretty fast, but not as fast as yours. You must get a lot of wounds to have to heal up so quickly."

"Slayers get their share of them. We're out almost every night, patrolling, looking for vamps, fighting demons."

"So if you're here," Gabrielle said, "then there's no one where you come from to kill them?"

"Well, there IS another Slayer, but she's . . . not . . . she's not really into the whole Slayer mystique. She's kind of a rogue."

"Didn't you just say there's only one Slayer alive at a time?" Xena had that suspicious tone back in her voice.

"There's only SUPPOSED to be one, but I died. I drowned. But Xander, one of my best friends, gave me mouth to mouth resuscitation and brought me back to life."

"Mouth to mouth what?"

"He closed off my nose and breathed air into my lungs through my mouth until I came back. But I was dead just long enough that another Slayer was called."

"And she didn't want to be one?" Gabrielle asked.

"Oh, no, she loved being a Slayer. Her name was Kendra. And she was good! Good moves, fast, tough, strong. But she was killed by a female vampire named Drusilla. And it was the next Slayer, named Faith, who went rogue."

"I get the feeling Slayers don't live very long."

Buffy turned back to Xena.

"We don't. We're usually called in our early to mid-teens, and it's rare for a Slayer to live to see her 21st birthday."

"How old are you?"

"I’m 21."

Gabrielle felt a chill go through her, and decided she had heard enough about Slayers for the time being.

Chapter Fifteen

"Aren't you supposed to use a pocket watch?" Willow asked.

"That's what you see on television," Giles answered. "A real hypnotist doesn't need anything more than the power of suggestion."

"So what should I do?"

"I want you to relax. Find a comfortable position and relax."

"Should I lie down?"

"If you're more comfortable that way."

"Are they going to be here?"

"That's up to you."

Willow looked at the gang – Dawn, Anya, Xander and Tara.

"You won't let me say anything stupid in front of everybody, will you?" she asked Tara.

"Of course not."

Willow took an unsure breath, then lay down on the sofa in Buffy's living room. Giles sat in a chair next to her head.

"Now, Willow, I want you to close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths. And while you're doing that I want you to imagine you're on the shore of a large peaceful lake. The water is very still. There are no sounds other than the gentle whisper of a gentle breeze. Everything is calm and serene."

As Willow sank deeper and deeper into the relaxed state, lulled by Giles' voice, he watched her until he was sure she was ready.

"Willow?" he said quietly.

"Hmmm?" she replied.

"What do you see?"

"The lake," she said dreamily.

"And what else?"

"Not sure. Something's coming out of it."

"Is it a piece of magic parchment with writing on it."

"Don't think so."

"Look harder. You want to see it. You want it to rise out of the water and come to you. You have to know what is written on the page."

"I do?"

"Yes, it's very important that you know what it says."

"Oh, yes. Now I see it."

"Good! That's very good. Now is it close enough that you can read it?"

"Almost. Tara's bringing it to me."

"Excellent."

"There's writing on it, lots of writing. But I can't read it."

"Yes you can. You can read, and remember every word on the page."

"But I can't."

"Why can't you?"

"Because all I can focus on is Tara."

"You have to ignore Tara. You HAVE to concentrate on the parchment."

"But I CAN'T!"

"Why can't you?"

"Because Tara's naked."

Xander's eyes lit up in anticipation.

……………………….

"Not too much longer now," Xena said. "We should be in Amazon hunting grounds very soon."

"You know, Buffy, just before you arrived, Xena and I were talking about what would happen to my scrolls after I died. She said I would probably hand them down to my children, and they would pass them to their children, and so on. But if you say they were found in a cave, then I'm beginning to think that I'll never have those children."

"That's not necessarily so. Maybe your ancestors hid them. They might not have been in the cave very long at all. Maybe just a few hundred years. Or less."

"Maybe. But it seems like whenever I do meet someone, for some reason we can never be together. Mostly it's because Xena and I move on. There's always some place we have to go, or something we have to do so that I can't settle down. And for whatever reason, the guy always has to stay where he is, or he dies."

"Well, maybe someday you'll meet the guy who CAN travel with you."

"Maybe."

"So, how will we know for sure when we're in Amazon territory?" Buffy asked, changing the subject.

"Arrows will be shot into the ground in front of us," Gabrielle replied.

"And when they do, clap your hands over your head and keep them there until they drop down from the trees." Xena added. "That's so they'll know we aren't here to make trouble."

Buffy looked up into the trees, scanning and listening.

"In that case, those arrows should show up any time now. We're being watched."

"Are you sure?" Gabrielle asked. "I don't see anyone, and I'm an Amazon too."

"One of the perks of being a Slayer – particularly attuned senses. They're there. At least a half dozen."

"What's a dozen?"

"Twelve. So there are six of them, maybe a couple more."

The three of them continued deeper into the territory until the anticipated arrows landed in front of them. Immediately Xena, Gabrielle, and Buffy's hands went over their heads as five Amazon warriors dropped down from the trees to surround them.

"There are still three of them up there," Buffy said quietly. "Probably with arrows trained on us."

"I have no doubt," Xena replied.

"State your business here!" one of the Amazons said, confronting them.

"We come in peace," Gabrielle said, stepping to the front. "I am Gabrielle, and we seek an audience with Queen Ephiny."

The Amazon hesitated momentarily.

"Gabrielle," she said simply. "There are many Gabrielles. Who are you to . . . ?"

"No there aren't," Gabrielle said. "Gabrielle is a very rare name in Greece."

"She's your queen," Buffy interjected, as she took a couple of steps forward. "How about showing a little respect, here?"

The Amazon looked at Buffy with distain, then made a movement with her head. And immediately the sound of an arrow whizzing down was heard.

And just before it could penetrate Buffy's chest, she caught it in mid air, then dropped it unceremoniously to the ground.

"You can have the other two fire theirs if you like. They won't hit anything, except the ground."

Immediately, the Amazons on the ground raised their weapons.

"Stop!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "We're not here to cause trouble. But you WILL take us to Ephiny!"

The Amazon locked eyes with Gabrielle, and was about to say something when another one dropped from the tree.

"Alara," she said, "This IS Queen Gabrielle. I didn't recognize her at first. I've only seen her one other time."

"Very well," Alara said, obviously not very happy. "Follow me."

Chapter Sixteen

As they were following Alara, Xena said to Gabrielle, "Is it just me, or do these women look different?"

"I was just noticing that. Their dress is different. I've heard about some of the smaller tribes joining up with the larger ones. These must be some of those."

"Looks like they make the new ones do the grunt work," Buffy commented.

"What do you mean?"

"Guarding the perimeter. Not the most glamorous job."

"True," Gabrielle agreed. "But it IS an important one."

As they entered the village, Gabrielle and Xena began to recognize some of the Amazons. And as they recognized Gabrielle, they went to one knee, heads bowed, in respect to their legendary queen.

As Alara saw what was happening, she began to get angry. She had plans to challenge Ephiny for leadership of the tribe, and there was no place for this interloper.

"I guess some of them know you," Buffy said to Gabrielle.

"Yes. Some are good friends. And I know it's expected, but I still feel uncomfortable being bowed to like that."

Word of Gabrielle's coming reached Ephiny well before the visitors did, and breaking with tradition, Ephiny met them half way rather than wait for them to reach her hut.

Alara watched with suppressed rage as Ephiny and Gabrielle embraced each other.

"Welcome, Gabrielle! It's been much too long."

"And don’t I know it. It's like coming home again."

Ephiny turned to Xena.

"Welcome, Xena. It's always good to see you."

Xena and Ephiny grasped forearms.

"I see you have brought us a visitor."

"Ephiny, this is Buffy. Buffy, Queen Ephiny."

Buffy hesitated, not knowing if she should kneel or bow or shake hands. Sensing her uncertainty, Ephiny put out both hands to take both of Buffy's. She then took a closer look at Buffy's shoeless feet. She was curious, but knew the story would be told.

"Gabrielle, I think your friend could use a bath, clean clothes and some footwear."

"I think we all could."

As Ephiny was about to say something, Alara leaned in to her and whispered in her ear. When she stepped back, Ephiny looked at Buffy in a new light.

"I hear you catch arrows," she said to Buffy.

"Only when they're shot at me."

"Xena is the only other one I've seen do that."

"Buffy has some unusual skills," Gabrielle told her. "We'll be glad to tell you everything, but after we've bathed and had something to eat."

"Certainly," Ephiny said, not realizing she was already deferring to Gabrielle. But Alara didn't miss it. And her anger, and hatred, for Gabrielle only grew.

It wasn't long before the three travelers had bathed, changed into fresh clothing and were sitting in front of Ephiny's hut, a small feast in front of them. As they ate, many of the members of the original tribe expressed to Gabrielle their happiness that she was back, if only for a visit.

As the afternoon turned into evening, Ephiny no longer could suppress her curiosity about the strange barefoot woman who caught arrows on the fly.

As Buffy explained who she was, where she came from, and how she arrived, Alara was sitting nearby, listening to every word. Eventually she would hear something useful. Something she could use to further her ambition to become queen.

"I'm not really sure I understand about this demon you mentioned," Ephiny said. "He has something to do with vengeance?"

"Yes," Buffy explained. "He recruits certain women who have been wronged by the men in their lives – husbands, boyfriends, or just some man who did something to hurt them, usually emotionally. And then these women become Vengeance Demons with powers to exact revenge other wronged women wish on the ones who hurt them."

"In what manner?"

"Turn them into toads, or pigs. Cover their bodies with sores and pustules. Just about anything the women can imagine. Even if it means their deaths. Sometimes it can get really gruesome."

"And what did you say his name was?"

"D'Hoffryn. As far as I know he's been around for thousands of years. He's probably doing business now."

"I don't think any of us have ever heard of him, or of these Vengeance Demons."

"Since you have no contact with men, and especially not having any romantic liaisons with them, then you probably wouldn't."

Alara made sure she remembered the name 'D'Hoffryn'. She didn't know how, or why, but she felt this demon could very possibly prove to be particularly useful.

"I couldn't help but notice there are a lot of new faces here," Gabrielle commented.

"Yes," Ephiny answered. "We've taken in a few of the smaller tribes who were in danger of dying out. Some of them have ways that are quite different from ours, and it's been quite a learning experience for all of us. There has been some conflict, some harsh words, and even a few fights. But gradually we're learning to get along."

"I'm glad to hear it. New ideas and different ways of thinking can only make us stronger in the end."

As the conversation died down, Buffy noticed that Ephiny was looking at her curiously.

"Did you want something?" Buffy asked.

"I was just thinking," Ephiny answered. "If you truly have the abilities you and Gabrielle have described to us, we would certainly have a place for you here. With us. As an Amazon."

Chapter Seventeen

"Willow, you MUST ignore Tara for the moment," Giles said urgently. "It is imperative that you concentrate on the parchment."

"But she looks so sweet! And so sensual. And so naked."

"Will, this is me," Tara broke in. "You have to look at the parchment."

"How are you talking without your mouth moving? It's such a sexy mouth."

"I'm sending you my thoughts."

"Oh."

"Willow, do you remember what happened last night, after your shower? That thing I did that you like so much?"

"Oh yes, I remember. It was so nice."

"Well, if you will concentrate on the parchment long enough to write down what it says, I'll do it again, and again."

"You will? That's just super! But I don't have any paper."

"Just sit up and Mr. Giles will hand you a pad and a pencil, okay?"

Willow slowly sat up with help from Tara, then took the legal pad and pencil from Giles, her eyes never opening.

"Now just look at the parchment and write everything down you see."

Willow slowly started making marks on the paper, writing from right to left, top to bottom. As she did everyone crowded around, trying to read the unfamiliar characters.

"Well, that makes no sense at all," Anya said as she went back to the chair she had been sitting in.

"It's in the proto-Sumerian," Giles explained.

"Will we get to see you do that 'thing' you do, with Willow?" Xander asked enthusiastically, as Anya glared at him.

Tara smiled. "Sure, if you want to watch a foot massage."

…………………………….-

"An Amazon? Me?" Buffy asked with some surprise.

"Of course. You would make an excellent sister to us."

"Well, I appreciate the offer and all, but I really don't plan on staying here that long. Any day now I'm sure Willow and Giles will find some way to bring me back home."

"But if they don't, you will be more than welcome to join us."

"Gabrielle?" Ephiny looked to Gabrielle for confirmation. "What do you think?"

"I hadn’t really thought about it, but you're right. Buffy certainly has the skills to become one of us."

As the conversation continued, Alara was formulating a plan. It would be complicated, which would make her seem less the architect of it. And it would depend on a certain demon fulfilling his unwitting part in it. But first she had to learn more about D'Hoffryn, Vengeance Demons, and Slayer powers.

As the night wore on, the feast began to wind down. Many had left for their huts for the night. Ephiny offered hers to Gabrielle, Xena and Buffy, but Gabrielle graciously declined, and opted, rather for the guest quarters. It wasn't as large as the one reserved for the queen, but it had two extra beds and would accommodate them nicely.

………………………….-

The next morning, Alara was up early, waiting for Buffy. She caught up to her as she was leaving the small part of the camp set aside for relieving themselves.

"Buffy, may I speak to you?"

Buffy stopped and waited, her guard up. There was something about this woman she just didn't trust.

"I wish to offer my most sincere apologies for the misunderstanding yesterday when we first met."

"You do? You tried to have me killed. And you say it was just a 'misunderstanding'?"

"Yes. I need for you to understand our position here. It has only two full changes of the moon since my few sisters and I joined Ephiny's tribe . And in my overzealousness to prove we can be a valuable addition to the tribe, I obviously overstepped certain boundaries. I hope you can understand, and can forgive me."

"Well, I guess I can see how you would want to show everyone you have earned the right to be here."

Alara nodded at the tacit acceptance of her apology.

"I hope we can be friends," Alara continued. "You, your life, is so mesmerizing, I would love to know more about it."

"Well, there's not much more to tell. Anything in particular?" Buffy was beginning to warm up to her. Maybe she wasn't so bad after all.

"I am fascinated by these Vengeance Demons you described. Are they really so terrible?"

"Well, I guess it would depend on which side of their vengeance you're on."

"So, how do they find the women they help?"

"I suppose they can sense their pain somehow. And then they approach them, get to know them, and work it so the woman will make some kind of wish for something to happen to the guy, and she makes it happen."

"So, she can't just say who she is and why she is there?"

"I don't think so. It seems like even they have rules they have to go by."

"But what if they harm someone that another is in love with?"

"I’m not sure I follow you."

"Let's just say Xena and Gabrielle are lovers. But Ephiny is also in love with Gabrielle. What if Gabrielle does something that makes Xena call for the Vengeance Demon and she kills Gabrielle. Can Ephiny call for Xena, or the Vengeance Demon, to be killed?"

"I don't know about all that, except that Vengeance Demons can't be killed, as far as I know. I know one ex-Vengeance Demon, and she's over a thousand years old."

"So they are immortal?"

"Pretty much, I guess. I've never heard of any of them who were killed."

"And this demon who creates them. He is also immortal?"

"It seems so. Or maybe they just live a very, very long time."

"And Slayers, you have magic powers also?"

"No. Not really magic in that we can cast spells or teleport or anything. But we do get our abilities through magic. Mostly we're just very strong, very fast, have very acute senses, and we heal up pretty fast."

"Yes, the cut on your arm you described, may I see it?"

Buffy pushed up her sleeve to expose her upper arm, but there was no sign of any trauma.

"Well, I've taken up enough of your time. I'm sure you are ready for breakfast," Alara said. "Perhaps we can speak again. I'm sure I'll think of other questions. If you don't mind?"

"Sure, anytime."

Chapter Eighteen

Every effort was made to accept and to integrate the new members into the main body of Ephiny's tribe, but many of them preferred to be housed with their own until they were more familiar with the daily workings and the ways of their adopted tribe.

There were nine women who came with Alara, and they shared four huts. Three of them in two huts. And two each in two more. Alara insisted on sharing a hut with the oldest of them. So old she was only known as 'Old Mother.'

No one knew how old she was, not even she. It was never said out loud, but they suspected she owed her great age to her forbidden knowledge of dark, mystical forces she sometimes called upon. Alara made them swear to say nothing about her, other than she was very old.

Alara entered the darkened hut. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could barely make out the old woman sitting on a raised pallet on the dirt floor. Raised to make it easier for her to get to her feet.

Alara poured a cup of water from a water skin and took it to her. With trembling hands, she took the cup and drank it down.

Alara went to her knees in front of her.

"Your day went well?" she asked.

"As well as can be expected," the old woman croaked, barely above a whisper.

"Are you hungry?"

"No. Marla was by earlier with soup and bread."

Alara arose and went to her own pallet and sat down. It was late, and she was getting sleepy, but first there was something she had to do – a request to make of Old Mother.

She had no idea how long she sat there, forming arguments in her mind so when she made her request, it would seem honest and sincere, but before she could ask, Old Mother spoke with a voice that trembled even more than her hands. "This is a dangerous thing you seek. You wish me to call upon powers beyond even mine to control."

"I only request that you summon this D'Hoffryn. I need to speak to him."

With an effort, Old Mother raised her voice. "You DO NOT summon such a demon! You go to him, begging and in supplication, hoping he does not strike you dead for his own amusement."

"Then send me to him, I beg of you. I have an important issue to discuss with him. You can do it, I know. Help me. Help me fulfill my destiny. The ones the Fates have laid out for me."

"What do you know of the Fates? How can YOU know what they have plotted for your future?"

"Because I know. Must I beg you again? Do this for me, and I'll never ask another favor from you. This I swear!"

"You are a fool. A fool who is destined to cause a death before the sun rises. But so be it, if that is your wish. Lie back on your bed and prepare for your journey."

Alara laid down on the hard pallet and close her eyes. She breathed in and out slowly and tried to lessen the uncontrollable beating of her heart. From the other side of the hut she could hear the low sing-song chanting of Old Mother. The words were loud enough to hear, but made no sense to her. The language was one she had never heard before.

And then she was standing, the air burning her nostrils as she breathed. It was hot, but not unbearably so. She slowly opened her eyes. It was light, she could plainly see, but there were no candles nor torches.

Alara slowly looked around her. She seemed to be in a cave of some kind. She could hear noises, possibly voices.

Taking a deep breath, Alara spoke out, "D'Hoffryn! I am Alara, of the Stag Horn Tribe of the Amazon Nation. I wish to speak with you!"

Her voice echoed, but that was all.

Louder still, she repeated herself a second, and then a third time.

"D'Hoffryn . . . !"

"I hear you. You think I am deaf?"

Alara spun around to find a tall, blue-skinned, horned . . . demon standing there.

"Do you think I should just drop everything and hurry to see what a lowly mortal desires because she screams out my name?"

"N-no. No. Of course not. I – I only wished to . . . ."

"I know. You wish to speak to me. That part you made abundantly clear. So what is it that you risk your very soul to speak of?"

"I wish to serve you, and to do your bidding."

"To serve me, and do my bidding? By doing what?"

"I want to become a Vengeance Demon . . . to aid those who have been harmed by men, to help them get their revenge."

"This wouldn't have anything to do with your distain for the male species in general, would it?"

"No, not at all. I only wish to help those women who have been victimized and mistreated, by anyone."

"Hmmm, I see. And if I should grant you this – wish, what is it that you can do for me in return? Other than your desire to serve me and do my bidding?"

"I don't understand. What is it you want me to do? This is all new to me, so I'm not sure how things are done."

"I was thinking along the lines of a sacrifice of some kind."

"Of course. A sacrifice. Whatever it is you desire."

"What I desire is of no consequence. What is it that you have to offer? What LIFE do you present to me?"

Alara was momentarily at a loss for words. What life? Someone should die for her? Then so be it. She could think of four lives that she could surrender.

"I can give you four lives. "

"Four lives! That IS impressive. And just who might these four be?"

"Their names are Ephiny, Gabrielle, Xena, and Buffy. They are Amazons, two of them anyway, and any or all of them are yours for the taking if you'll only grant me this one thing."

D'Hoffryn nodded, as if he was contemplating the offer.

"Four are unnecessary. One will do fine. But before I make my decision, you DO know the definition of 'sacrifice'?"

"Certainly, it is the giving of a life in exchange for a favor."

"Almost. It is the giving of a life THAT YOU VALUE for these favors. These lives you offer me hold no worth for you. However . . . ."

D'Hoffryn moved his hand in a small circular motion, and a vaguely round "window" appeared, looking in on the withered, sleeping form of Old Mother.

"She," he said, "is one you value. Only by sacrificing her life will make your ascension to Vengeance Demon worthy."

"But . . . You don't understand who she is . . . what she means to me, to my sister Amazons."

"I know exactly what her value is. That is why it is her life, her soul, that must be surrendered."

Despite her heartless ambition, Old Mother was the only one Alara actually cared about.

"No. I can't do this. I will find another way. Please, just send me back."

"Ah, yes. Send you back. As if wasting my time is of no importance. As if I have nothing else to do but cater to the whims of a small, insignificant insect."

"No. You misunderstand. I didn't mean . . . ."

"It is YOU who misunderstands! It's a simple choice. Her life for yours, or yours for hers."

"What? What are you saying?"

"Just that if you want to become a Vengeance Demon, her life is forfeit. But if you wish to return to your mortal realm, then your soul will go into her essence, prolonging her life another fifty years or so, and your body dies. It's up to you."

"I don't know what to do."

"Don't wait too long, or I will choose for you. And you may not like my choice."

Alara's breath was coming hard and fast. Die, or have the only person in the world she cared for die in her place.

"I'm waiting, and running out of patience."

"Okay! Take her! I'll be yours."

"Very well."

As Alara watched, some thing, some indefinable thing seemed to rise up from Old Mother's body. She convulsed, and breathed her last breath.

"It is done. I will return you to your bed so your body can rest while it adjusts to your new powers. Until we meet again, Halfrek. Goodbye."

"Wait! What did you call me?"

"I called you Halfrek."

"No. My name is Alara."

"That is your mortal name. Your demon name is now Halfrek."

"What – what does it mean?"

"Mean? It's a name, that's all. In fact it's my eighth wife's name, or is it the ninth? No matter."

"It's an – odd name."

"Quite the contrary. As far a demon names go, it's quite pretty. So, are you ready to go back now, Halfrek?"

"Yes, I am ready."

"Very well. Oh, and one other thing. Tomorrow morning, after you have discovered your powers, you will find that being a mere Amazon queen pales in comparison, and you will have no further interest."

"Amazon . . . ? How did you know?"

"Did you really think I was ignorant of your actual intentions? That I could not see into your soul?"

"Then why make me a Vengeance Demon?"

"Because I see potential in you. Your heart is not a particular warm one. It will serve me well."

(A.N. Since I posted the previous chapter, I've received a couple of reviews and a couple of emails pointing out that Halfrek and Cecily Addams (first seen in the episode Fool For Love) were the same, and after William was turned by Drusilla, that somehow, sometime Cecily became Halfrek. This same discussion ran for a few weeks on the alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer newsgroup. And the general conclusion was that since we never saw Cecily become Halfrek then there is no actual proof they were, indeed, one and the same. But even if they were - who's to say Halfrek wasn't posing as Cecily for whatever reason she might have had? So, my version will remain as I wrote it.)

Chapter Nineteen

"Maybe if you hypnotize her again she'll remember."

"Dawny, after three times, I don't think a fourth time is going to work."

"I'm afraid Willow's right," Giles agreed. "We must face the fact that all of her proto-Sumerian language skills are gone."

"But she remembered how to write it."

"A latent memory. Which now is probably also gone. We were lucky we got it when we did."

"So basically, it's a worthless piece of paper," Anya stated.

"Well, not entirely. What we have here is the largest collection of proto-Sumerian script ever discovered, on a single page. If we could translate it fully, it would be priceless. And even as it is, to the universities and historical researchers specializing in ancient writings, it could be worth thousands."

"Then just sell the damned thing on Ebay and let's get what we can out of it."

Giles shook his head in amazement.

"What about all those books you have?" Xander asked. "There's nothing in any them?"

"Very little, I'm afraid."

The five of them sat, thinking, trying to come up with a solution of some kind.

Then Dawn asked, "Anya, when you became a Vengeance Demon it was a long time ago, right? Were you able to read it then?"

"I'm not THAT old! That proto-whatever was WAY before my time. Although, now that I think about it, I probably could have read it. We VDs traveled all around the world, and languages were no problem for us at all. But that was . . . then."

"But, you were friends with other Vengeance Demons, weren't you? Maybe you could ask one of them."

"I was never very friendly with many of them. Well, any of them really. Except there was one I became pretty good friends with. She was much older than I was and she took me under her wing, showed me the ropes, gave me advice. But after I was expelled from the demon community, I was just as good as dead to them. And I'm sure she feels the same way."

"Do you know how to get in touch with her? Like a spell or something? You never know."

"I suppose I could just call her out. We VDs were very name-sensitive."

"Could you at least try?" Willow asked.

"Sure. What could it hurt?"

Anya took a deep breath, the yelled at the top of her lungs.

"HALLIE! HALLIEEE! HALFREK! HAL-FREK!"

There was a brightness, then suddenly in front of them a rather attractive dark-haired woman appeared. Attractive if her face and neck hadn't been pockmarked with deep, red blemishes.

"WHO calls my NAME?" She thundered. "WHO risks my retribution?"

"Hallie, it's me, Anyanka."

"Anyanka? It IS you! This is a surprise! You look well, considering . . . ."

"Well, so do you. How've you been?"

"I've been well, very well. In fact, I'm having a ball!"

As they talked, Halfrek's demon face slowly reverted into that of a very pretty, clear-skinned woman.

After the small talk was done with, Halfrek asked, "So, Anyanka, I know this isn't just a social occasion. Why did you summon me?"

"We want to know if you can read this. And translate it."

Halfrek took the paper from Giles and began to read down the page, nodding in places. Then she smiled, then gave a small laugh.

"So? What does it say?"

"It's a spell. A time traveling spell. Where did you get this?"

"D'Hoffryn gave it to me," Willow answered. "We wanted to send someone back in time and he gave me that."

"Oh, that D'Hoffryn!"

"What?"

"I recognize the spell, even used it a time or two. But the last line, he changed it."

"How?"

"You know, most demons don't realize it, but D'Hoffryn has quite the sense of humor. Oh I can just see it now."

"See what? What did he do to the spell?" Willow was getting impatient to the point of anger.

"Right here. Look, see where it says 'Hardra na poseva.' It should read 'Hardra TA poseva.' I bet your friend left all his belongings behind, right?"

"Yes, but he was a she. Everything was still here – her food and water and clothes."

Halfrek laughed again.

"He changed the spell to read 'Let you now be gone with no possessions' when it was suppose to say 'Let you now be gone with all possessions."

"That bastard!" Dawn yelled out.

"Oh, it was just a small prank. I'm sure she got back in one piece."

"But she didn't. She's not back and we don't know how to reach her. I gave her an amulet with the words to come home, but it was left behind, too."

"Oh, well that CAN be a problem. Do you know where and when you sent her?"

"She was sent to Greece about 2000 years, give or take a few decades, into the past," Giles said. "She wanted to try to find a female warrior named Xena."

"Now, that name sounds familiar. But I haven't heard it in, well, quite a few centuries."

"She also wanted to find Xena's companion named Gabrielle." Willow was becoming excited.

"Oh. I think I'm remembering something. Your friend, her name was Buddy, or . . . ?"

"Buffy! It's Buffy! Did you know her? Did you see her? Was she okay?" Dawn was verging on hysteria.

"Buffy. Oh yes, I do remember her. She was traveling with Xena and Gabrielle."

"Thank god!" Willow exclaimed. "Then she was all right?"

"Except that she had no shoes. And her clothes didn't fit her very well."

"Just how did a Vengeance Demon come to know Buffy?" Giles asked.

"Oh, I wasn't a VD at the time, I was an Amazon warrior. And the three of them came into our hunting grounds. We challenged them, and your Buffy got a bit snippy so I ordered one of my archers to shoot her through the heart."

"WHAT?" Willow, Dawn and Xander yelled out.

"But she caught the arrow. No harm was done to her. But because of her I am what I am today."

"How so?"

"While she was explaining everything about where she came from and how she got there, she mentioned D'Hoffryn's name, so I went to see him. And after a very pleasant conversation, I became one of his Vengeance Demons. So I guess I have her to thank for it."

"I know you had more important things to do after your ascension and didn't stick around very long," Anya said, "but whatever happened to Buffy?"

"Oh, when I left, she and Xena were fighting to the death."

Chapter Twenty

As the members the Amazon tribe passed her by, Halfrek examined their inner feelings, the ones they often refused to acknowledge even to themselves. She was looking for one of two things. Weakness in character. She wanted a woman who could be easily swayed into doing what she wanted. Or someone with a secret grudge or dissatisfaction. A combination of the two would be ideal.

And she found her. She had come in from a different tribe shortly before Alara and her sisters arrived. And like all clans, each thought their ways and methods were better than anyone else's. Eventually all came to accept the customs of their adopted tribe – Ephiny's tribe.

But there was always one or two dissenters. This one was a rather mousy, introverted, and not very attractive woman named Tana. She was the one who always seemed to get the unpleasant and arduous jobs no one would volunteer for. She often had to clean up the bloody remains when a deer or wild pig was slaughtered. Or dispose of the rotted vegetables stored in the cool underground pits during the summer. And it was her responsibility to maintain, and if necessary, dig the waste holes used by the tribe to relieve their bladders and bowels.

Alara waited until the morning meal was finished. As Tana began cleaning the area where her clan ate, Alara sat down near her.

Tana tried to ignore her, but Alara forced a couple of tears to be shed. Feeling she should say something, Tana expressed her condolences over the death of Old Mother.

"Thank you," Alara responded. "Even though she was very old, it should not have been her time."

"How so?"

"Just before Gabrielle and those other two came, I was going to ask Ephiny if Old Mother could spend a few nights in the guest hut, just to get her away from the cold, damp ground. But THEY came, and . . . and . . . ."

As Alara shed more tears, she could feel Tana's sympathy, and anger, increasing.

"But I can't really blame Queen Gabrielle, not entirely. It was that Xena who insisted they stay there. Actually, I think she demanded it, and of course, Gabrielle went along with it."

Tana didn't answer.

"They just show up and because they have these unusual fighting skills, they think they're better than the rest of us."

"Who?" Tana asked timidly.

"Xena. And that Buffy. They both act like they are so high and mighty, and we're so insignificant. It's too bad there's nothing we can do."

Tana didn't answer, still intimidated by Alara's presence.

"But wouldn't seeing them go at each other be a battle to end all battles?"

Tana nodded and barely got out, "Yes, it would."

"Wouldn't you want to see that? Two great warriors fighting it out to see who was the mightier woman?"

"It would be something to see," Tana answered, her voice a bit stronger.

"If I had only one wish, I sure know what I'D wish for. What about you?"

"If I had only one wish, I could think of other things I would like. But if I had many wishes, then, yes I would wish to see Buffy and Xena fight each other."

"Even to the death? I mean, after what happened with Old Mother?"

"After their inconsideration, yes, even to the death."

Halfrek smiled.

"And so it shall be done."

Halfrek stood up, took one step and vanished in front of Tana's astonished eyes.

When she reappeared at the rear of the crowd of women, Buffy and Xena were fighting. Xena was using her sword, and Buffy had found a battle staff and was fighting back. Neither seemed to have a distinct advantage.

"So what happened?" Halfrek asked one.

"We don't know. Everyone was eating breakfast, then suddenly Xena and Buffy started threatening each other, then they started fighting."

Halfrek pushed her way to the front to get a better view. But after watching for a short while, she began to get bored. From the looks of it, it was going to be a long battle. She pushed her way out of the crowd, took one last look around, then disappeared into the air.

"We have to stop this!" Gabrielle said, fearful of the outcome. "They're going to kill each other!"

"It can't be stopped," Ephiny told her. "You know that. The challenge has been made and answered."

"We have to do something!"

But Ephiny didn't answer. She too, was caught up in the conflict. Gabrielle could only watch in dismay.

Buffy had managed to knock Xena's sword from her hand. But as Xena went for her Chakram, Buffy abandoned the staff and made a diving roll to get the sword.

Xena threw the Chakram at Buffy's head. She barely deflected it with the blade. The Chakram circled back toward Buffy, but she ducked out of the way and it buried itself into the ground.

Buffy pressed her advantage at the weaponless Xena. But Xena was able to dodge three of the strikes of her sword, then managed a side kick to Buffy's midsection, driving her backward into the crowd of Amazons. They quickly scattered, not wanting to become collaterally injured.

Buffy stabbed at the advancing Xena, but she was able to turn aside and grab Buffy's sword hand, spinning her around, twisting her wrist, and the sword went flying away.

They began throwing punches. Most were blocked, but enough landed to cause facial cuts on both of them.

Buffy ducked under one punch and dove into Xena, driving her to the ground. She managed to get behind Xena, wrapped her legs around her middle and locked them together, squeezing with all her strength. At the same time her arms went around Xena's neck, pulling back on it, and choking her.

Xena was momentarily stunned, then using her finger tips, speared Buffy's upper thighs several times in different places, causing Buffy's leg muscles to deadened long enough for her to throw her head back into Buffy's face, loosening the grip on her neck, and was able to escape.

Both women made it to their feet. Xena was panting hard and fast, trying to regain her breath, and Buffy was barely able to walk.

Gabrielle took the opportunity to run out between them, her arms outstretched toward each.

"That's ENOUGH!" She yelled out. "This stops NOW!"

Xena and Buffy glared at each other, watching the other warily, trying to regain strength.

When Gabrielle saw neither was attacking, she lowered her arms.

"Now, I don't know what's gotten into you two, and I don't care, but this insane fighting is OVER! Do you hear me?"

Neither answered, but each slowly approached the other.

"Now I want you to shake hands, and let's all be friends again."

As Xena and Buffy got within arm's length of Gabrielle, each suddenly pushed her out of the way, and ran at the other.

Xena suddenly flipped over Buffy, her feet hitting Buffy squarely in the back as she was coming down. Buffy was kicked a dozen feet away, landing face first into dirt.

Xena turned and attacked again, but Buffy kipped up to her feet and threw a handful of dirt into Xena' eyes, blinding her.

Xena lashed out, trying to keep Buffy at a distance. But Buffy went low and kicked Xena's legs out from her and she fell flat onto her back. Still not completely recovered, she lost her breath.

Buffy dived down on top of her, and her hands encircled Xena's injured throat as she began choking her again.

Xena began to gag as blood started trickling from the corners of her mouth. But her hands found Buffy's eyes and she began to claw into them.

Gabrielle watched in horror at the conflict, helpless to stop it.

Alara slowly opened her eyes. She could tell it was already well past daybreak from the light seeping through the cracks in the walls and around the edges of the centaur-skin flap that served as a door. She could hear the goings on outside as the Amazons were beginning their day.

She glance over to the lifeless body of Old Mother. She felt a twinge of regret, and a bit of wonderment. She recalled Old Mother's warning to her – "You are a fool who is destined to cause a death before the sun rises." She never expected it to be the one, the only person, she had any real feelings for.

But the twinge quickly left her as she began to experience her first taste of her new powers. She was becoming aware of feelings drifting, surrounding her. Feelings and emotions of the women outside her hut.

Some were happy emotions – contentment and pleasure and cheerfulness.

Others weren't so pleasurable. She could sense dissatisfaction, annoyance, and resentment.

Other emotions tended toward desire, admiration, and love.

As yet she wasn't able to discern which emotions came from which women, but she was confident that in time she would.

Alara slowly arose from her bed and stepped outside the hut. She looked around until she saw Marla, and she called to her.

"Old Mother passed over in the night. You will see to it that she is bathed and prepared for her funeral. I will break the news to Ephiny of this . . . great tragedy."

She nodded, and with tears running down her cheeks, Marla set about with the preparations. She called upon several of her sisters to help.

Alara walked purposefully toward the center of camp, where the communal meal was being prepared. She spotted Ephiny with Gabrielle, Xena and Buffy. They were laughing and enjoying the morning. Alara's distain for them had not lessened since the day before. Only her desire to be queen was gone.

"I have sad news to report," Alara said without preface. "Old Mother, the ancient matriarch of our clan, passed over to the other side last night."

Ephiny immediately got to her feet and embraced Alara in consolation and camaraderie. Alara could feel the sadness and distress in her. But it only felt like weakness to her.

When Ephiny stepped back, Gabrielle took her place. The emotions coming from her were similar.

"I'm so sorry," Buffy said." I didn't know her, but any death is a sad occasion."

While they were expressing their condolences, and as the word began to spread, Alara, who was still having trouble thinking of herself as Halfrek, began to analyze the feelings of Buffy, Gabrielle, and Xena.

She could feel the love and respect and loyalty Gabrielle and Xena felt for each other.

Buffy had feelings of respect for Gabrielle. But she had very little for Xena.

Alara could also detect a bit of a rivalry. The kind that exists between two mighty warriors, each wondering just who may be the stronger, the faster, the better combatant.

Going back to Xena, she then found a sense of hostility toward Buffy, and jealousy because of Gabrielle's increasing affection for Buffy. And there were comparable feelings of who was the better fighter.

Alara smiled to herself. Although she no longer had any interest in the Amazons and their little queendom, she still felt the animosity toward the three of them. And she concluded to best way to say farewell to her life as an Amazon was to instigate a confrontation between the two "champions."

Let their jealousy and pride bring them together in a fight to the death. She knew once the challenge had been made, no one could interfere. They would battle on until one or both were dead or dying.

But Buffy was right, she could not increase their enmity toward each other on her own. She would have to find someone to make the wish. Someone with a weak mind who would be easily manipulated into saying just the right words that would give . . . Halfrek, her opening.

"What do you mean? A fight to the death?"

"Oh, just a little something I instigated as my farewell to the Amazon life. They both were going at it with murder in their eyes."

"Why would you do such a thing?" Dawn was hysterical. "WHY?"

"They irritated me from the very instant they entered Amazon territory. With their fighting skills and preternatural powers and Gabrielle's lording over us just because she was the queen. I didn’t like them at all, none of them."

"But what happened to them? Did one of them kill the other?" Willow asked

"How should I know? I lost interest and teleported myself to Rome. Lots of women being badly treated there."

"You've got to go back!" Dawn exclaimed. "You've got to stop them!"

"Actually, I don't. Besides, that was centuries ago. Who really cares anymore?"

"We all do," Anya told her. "Buffy is our friend, and she's the only Slayer we have. Can't you do this one little thing?"

"Anyanka, you of all people should know how D'Hoffryn feels about recanting spells. It's not his favorite thing to do."

"Can't you do it?" Dawn asked. "It was your spell."

"Only D'Hoffryn can undo a spell once it's been cast. And asking him to travel back 2000 years to reverse one, well, that's one favor I don't intend to ask for."

"But can't you at least translate the spell for us so we can go back and stop them?"

Halfrek looked a Willow for a few seconds, considering it, then said, "Oh all right. I suppose it's the least I could do."

Halfrek laid the sheet of paper on the dining room table, then passed her hand over it, and then across the space next to it. In the space a second sheet appeared. The words were in English.

"Thank you, Hallie," Anya told her. "We really do appreciate it."

"Yes, thanks ever so much," Willow. "You don't know how much we do."

"Yes, yes. I know. You're all so grateful. So, Anyanka, if there's nothing else, I must be off."

Halfrek started to dematerialize, then stopped and said, "I don't know how much good the translation will do you. The spell has to be recited in the original language. Good Luck."

Before anyone could say anything, she was gone.

Willow picked up the sheet with the translation and began to read it out loud. After a couple of sentences she stopped.

"It won't work. I can tell. There was magic when I read the original, I could feel it. These are just words."

"NOW can we sell it on Ebay?" Anya asked. "Giles, you said it would be worth a fortune."

"I said it would be priceless. Not the same thing."

Chapter Twenty-one

"So, now what do we do?"

"I'm afraid I'm at a loss for the moment. That demon friend of Anya's was our only hope."

"You can't give up!" Dawn was trying hard not to cry. "Willow? Tara? Somebody? Do something!"

"What do you want us to do, Dawny? We've tried everything we can think of."

"Then think of something else!"

"Dawn, just calm down," Xander told her. "We'll think of something. We just need time."

"But Buffy could DIE! Xena could kill her and she'd never come back to me."

"Don't you worry, Dawn," Tara explained. "When we figure out how to get her home, we'll certainly do it before anything bad happens to her."

"You're sure? You're positive you can?"

"Very positive. That's the neat thing about time traveling into the past – you can pick out any time you want to go to."

Dawn seemed to settle down some, hoping she could trust them to save Buffy.

Suddenly Dawn screamed out "BUFFY!" Her voice sounding of shock, and horror, and fear.

They all looked in the direction Dawn was facing, and in the exact spot she disappeared from was a filthy, bruised, bloody, and seemingly lifeless Buffy.

……………..-

Gabrielle could no longer stand by and do nothing. She ran out to Xena and Buffy, picking up the battle staff on her way. She then stuck it between the two of them and with one end on the ground began pushing up on the staff will all her strength, trying to pry them apart.

Seeing she needed help, Ephiny ran out to her, followed by several more women.

Gradually they began to separate them. Ephiny was able to pull Xena's fingers away from Buffy's eyes, and Gabrielle managed to release Buffy's death grip on Xena's neck.

By now there were at least ten Amazons helping to separate them. Five each dragging Buffy and Xena away from each other, straining against superior, yet weakening strength.

And despite their exhaustion, the two warriors still tried to get to the other.

"Look at their eyes!" one Amazon said. "They looked possessed!"

"Something, or someone has done this to them," Gabrielle declared. "An evil shaman or shamaness no doubt. Maybe one who has a grudge against Xena, and in Buffy found someone with the power and speed to kill her."

While she was talking, Gabrielle noticed a woman she didn't recognize had approached her, then knelt down near her, waiting.

"What is it?" Gabrielle snapped, in no mood for ceremony.

"I – I think I may know who did this thing."

"Will you stand up?" Gabrielle's concern was turning to anger. "Who are you? What do you know?"

Standing up, but still not meeting Gabrielle's glare, she said in a trembling voice, "My name is Tana. And I believe Alara is responsible."

"Alara? Why would you say such a thing?" Ephiny asked.

"She – she was talking to me earlier, right after breakfast. She was saying if it hadn't been for Xena's insistence on taking the guest hut, the matriarch of her clan, the one we know as Old Mother, would not have died from sleeping on the damp ground."

"What?" Gabrielle was dumbfounded. "She did no such thing!"

"What else did she say?" Ephiny asked.

"She was saying what a great battle it would be if Buffy and Xena were to fight. And she said it would be her wish to see it happen. And when I agreed, she said 'it would be so' or something like that. Then she disappeared! Vanished in front of my eyes!"

Ephiny turned to Gabrielle.

"It was said that Old Mother had the ability to contact the spirit world. Could it be that when she died Alara inherited her powers?"

"That has to be it," Gabrielle concluded. "She cursed them. Doomed them to fight until one of them is dead."

"What can we do?"

"We have to find another with the power to undo the curse."

"But who? And where?"

"I don't know, but we have to. Otherwise one, or both, will die."

All the while the speculation was going on, Xena and Buffy were regaining their strength, then without warning, each barreled through their guards and ran at each other again.

They met head on, both with handfuls of hair, jerking and throwing the other left and right, using head butts, and knees to the midsection.

Then Gabrielle had an idea, and she began to yell out as loud as she could, "ARES! ARES! SHE'S KILLING XENA! XENA WILL DIE! XENA NEEDS YOU!"

There was a bright reddish flash, and Ares was there.

"What are you saying? Who's killing Xena? HER?"

"By the gods, Ares! Can't you see what’s happening? Look at them! They've been cursed. They will fight until one of them dies. You have to stop them!"

Ares watched for a few moments, and realized Gabrielle was right. Xena was fighting like a mad woman, not like the trained warrior her knew her to be.

From both hands two bluish energy orbs flew out, striking Buffy and Xena, knocking them apart and unconscious.

"I didn't say to kill them!" Gabrielle yelled as she ran to Xena's side.

Ares walked over to them.

"I didn't kill them, I only knocked them out."

He stared down at them then wave his hand.

"The curse is gone. They're back to normal."

"Then why aren't they waking up?"

"They've expended almost all their life forces fighting each other. Even if neither one had killed the other, they still would have died."

"You have to save them. Fix them! Cure them!"

"I'm a war god! I don’t go around healing mortals!"

"But this is Xena! And I KNOW you aren't going to let HER die!"

"Oh, all right!"

Ares snapped his fingers, and a bearded man with a serpent wrapped around a staff appeared.

"Aesclepius, the God of Healing," Ares announced.

"Ares! What is the meaning of this?"

Ares pointed down at Xena.

"Heal her."

"You know I don't work that way. I do my healing through my priests and their disciples in a Healing Temple. Or at the very least, on a healing altar."

"Fix her or I'll send so many armies against your temples you won't HAVE any. Or altars! Now do as I say!"

"Zeus will hear of this!" he warned, then knelt down to the bruised and battered Xena.

"She is badly injured. She is near death."

Aesclepius moved his hand above her, his fingers moving rhythmically up and down, going from head to feet and back again, mumbling words no one could understand. After doing this several times, he stood up. Xena's cuts and bruises were gone.

"It is done."

"Why isn't she moving?" Gabrielle asked. "Why didn't she wake up?"

"Her body is healed. It is her life force, her soul, that needs time to recuperate. She will sleep until midday tomorrow."

"Thank you! Thank you so much!" Gabrielle said to him.

Then gesturing toward Buffy, she asked, "But do you think you could also heal her as well?

Aesclepius glanced down at Buffy with a degrading sneer, then looked at Ares.

"I now take my leave. You haven't heard the last of this, Ares. At this outrage!"

"Yeah, whatever," Ares said as Aesclepius disappeared.

He turned to Gabrielle.

"When Xena wakes up, you can tell her that she owes me. And I expect to be handsomely repaid!"

"She will, I promise you. But one more thing, before you go."

"NOW what?"

"Buffy. Please, you have to send her back to her own time. She doesn't belong here."

"Like I really care?"

"I know you don't, but look at it this way – if you do this, then Xena will owe you two favors. Two BIG favors. It can't get any better than THAT!"

Ares took a annoyed breath and walked over to the prostrate, unconscious Buffy. After looking at her for a few moments, he unexpectedly squatted down, studying her. Then waving his hand over her much as Aesclepius had done, Buffy disappeared.

"Okay, it's done! And Xena owes me, twice!"

"Are you sure she went back to the right place?"

"Of course I'm sure! Do I have to keep reminding you that I AM a god?"

"But how did you know where to send her?"

"There was a thread, a very tenuous, barely perceptible thread linking her to wherever she came from. I just sent her back along that thread."

Without another word, the God of War vanished.

Chapter Twenty-two

The five of them rushed over to Buffy. Only Dawn hung back, afraid.

"Is – is she . . . ?"

Giles knelt down and felt Buffy's neck for her carotid artery.

"She's alive, I can feel a pulse. It's very weak, but it's there."

"Would you look at her?" Xander said. "That must have one hell of a fight. You think Xena was some kind of rogue Slayer?"

"We need to get her to a hospital," Dawn insisted.

"Dawn, you know we can't do that. Not only would there be questions we can't answer, but when Buffy's wounds begin to heal themselves as quickly as they do -- you see what I mean?"

"Epson salts," Tara said.

"What?"

"She needs to soak in Epson salts and warm water, you know, to help with the healing."

"Do we have any?" Willow asked.

"Upstairs, under the bathroom sink."

Giles gently picked up Buffy, and as he carried her up the stairs, Dawn ran ahead to start running warm water into the bath tub. He laid her down in the tub, then waited outside as Dawn and Willow undressed her and brought her dirty, wet clothes out to him.

"And I suppose you're going to say those are priceless, also?" Anya asked.

"Well, they are in remarkably good shape to be 2000 years old," Giles answered. "These are probably the most detailed examples we have, and are certainly in the best condition, of any clothing from that era. So, yes, I would say they're worth quite a lot. And do not say Ebay."

Anya shrugged her shoulders, not particularly impressed.

……………………….-

"We need to get her cleaned up," Gabrielle said to Ephiny. "We need warm water and some rags. And I could use some help getting her into bed."

"Right away, My Queen," Ephiny answered and began issuing orders to have water heated, and had a litter brought to carry Xena to her hut.

"That's not necessary," Gabrielle told her. "The visitor's hut will be all right."

"With respect to your wishes, My Queen, I believe she would be more comfortable in the queen's hut."

Gabrielle allowed them to carry Xena as she followed behind. As she did she was puzzled at the actions of her sister Amazons. As she passed, they would go to one knee, heads bowed. Those she spoke to trembled and hurried to do her bidding.

Once Xena was washed and covered with a clean blanket, and Gabrielle was satisfied she was resting comfortably, she left the hut to join the others for the midday meal. As she approached them, they all knelt and bowed to her.

"Okay, I think we've had enough of this bowing and scraping. I don't know what's going on, but it's beginning to get a bit tiresome. Will you all get up off the ground and finish your meals?"

Slowly they rose to comply but no one dared took her in the face.

"Ephiny!" Gabrielle yelled out.

Immediately Ephiny was in attendance, bowing at the waist.

"You require something, My Queen?"

"Will you stop that?"

"My apologies, My Queen. I didn't mean to offend you."

"Ephiny, will you PLEASE tell me what's going on? Why is everyone treating me like this? Why all the bowing, and what's with the 'My Queen'? My name is Gabrielle. Or did you forget in all the excitement?"

"You really don't know?"

"If I did, I wouldn't have to ask."

"My Queen, do know how many of us have EVER seen even ONE of the gods?"

"Uh, no."

"None of us! Never in any of our lives have we seen one. Even the great goddess, Artemis, whom we worship, has never graced us with her presence. But not only did you call out for the war god Ares, but he appeared at your command! And when you instructed him to heal your friend, he forced yet another god to obey your wishes! Do you not see why we are in awe of you? What powers you must posses that even the gods obey you!"

Gabrielle could only stare at Ephiny. It had never occurred to her that by using Ares' love for Xena to save her life, she had given the appearance of having the dominion over the gods.

Suddenly she burst out laughing as she realized the absurdity of it. And as if given a cue, the others began laughing with her, although they had no idea of why they were doing so. But if the mighty Queen Gabrielle was laughing, then there MUST be something to laugh about.

………………..-

"How much longer do you think she's going to sleep?"

Willow looked up at Dawn from the dishes she was washing.

"I don't know. It's only been a day or so . . . ."

"Twenty-six hours," Dawn interrupted. "She's been sleeping for twenty-six hours. Shouldn't she be awake by now? Her cuts have all just about healed up."

"I’m sure it won't be much longer."

"Have you and Tara figured out how she got back?"

"No. We have no idea how it happened. Anya said she contacted Halfrek, and she said it wasn't her, or D'Hoffryn."

"I wonder if she killed Xena. As bad as Buffy looked, I know Xena had to have looked worse."

"Well, if she did, then maybe it's in one of the scrolls we haven't read yet."

"I wonder what she'll say when she wakes up and sees she's home."

"Probably that I'm starving to death!"

"Buffy!" Willow and Dawn said together.

"You shouldn't be up!"

"Are you okay?"

"I’m fine. I'm weak, and a little unsteady, but I sure am hungry."

They went to help Buffy to one of the stools. Neither mentioned how pale and how sickly she looked.

"What would you like?"

"It doesn't matter, just something quick, and filling."

"How 'bout pancakes?"

"That sounds good. And bacon, and sausage, and a couple of fried eggs. A glass of milk wouldn't hurt."

Dawn poured the milk while Willow started frying bacon and mixing up the pancake batter.

"I guess you're wondering how you got home, huh?" Dawn asked.

"Well, I assume you found a spell – or something."

"Nope. You just reappeared where you were when you left."

Chapter Twenty-four

Buffy looked from Willow and back to Dawn.

"Then how?"

"We don't know. We thought maybe you did."

Buffy shook her head.

"So what happened?" Dawn asked. "How was it?"

"Well, it was . . . different. Of course it could have gone better if I'd had my clothes, and everything else."

"You can thank D'Hoffryn for that. He changed the last line of the spell so you'd go back with nothing, instead of everything."

"How do you know?"

"Well, Anya has this Vengeance Demon friend who read over the spell and she told us. But before you tell us anything, why don't you eat first so we can call Giles and Xander and Anya and Tara so they can hear all about it too?"

"Fine by me. Isn't anything ready YET?"

……………-

After she stopped laughing, Gabrielle instructed everyone to gather around her, she had something to tell them.

"And if anyone starts that kneeling and bowing, you WILL feel my wrath!" she joked, although no one took if for anything less than a deadly threat.

"I understand you all seem to think I have some kind of power over Ares," she began. "And in a way you are right. But it's not the power you're thinking of. The power I have is knowledge. Ever since Xena and I began traveling together Ares has been trying to get her to return to her old ways. She was once his most valued warlord. Time and again he has returned, trying to convince her, bribe her, almost begging her to lead his army. So when she was in danger of dying I knew if I called for him, using her name, saying she could be killed, he would come. And even though he said he didn't heal mortals, I knew he wouldn't let her die because of three bits of information I knew about him."

Gabrielle held up one finger.

"One, as I already said, he wants her to lead the mightiest army there ever was. His army."

Gabrielle looked around at her audience. They were all sitting or squatting, transfixed by her story.

"The second thing I knew was than he wants Xena to bear him a child. He wants an heir, and he wants it from Xena. And thirdly," she said as she held up three fingers. "Even though he denies it, Ares is in love with Xena. And even if he hadn't made Aesclepius heal her, HE would have done it. So you see, there was no magic or great power on my part. It was simply the knowledge of Ares' feelings for Xena."

Gabrielle looked around. Their expressions hadn't changed. But now they were marveling at her wisdom.

"So," she continued, "what happened today can be summed up in two sentences of three words each. The first is, 'knowledge is power.' The more you know, about anything, the better off you'll be, no matter what the circumstance. And the second is, 'know your enemy.' Now, technically, Ares isn't our enemy, but he, like all the gods, and like any enemy you may face, will have one or more weaknesses. And if you use whatever knowledge you can glean from whatever sources you can find, you will have a distinct and unquestionable advantage."

She could see they were still enthralled by her, so she added, "The day is almost half over and there have been too many distractions, and your chores and responsibilities have been neglected. So I suggest you get to them."

When no one moved, she clapped her hands, "NOW!"

Immediately, everyone rushed to get to their work, and the sooner they could get to it, the less the chance of incurring her wrath.

"Well, I hope they all understand what I was trying to tell them," she said to Ephiny.

"I wouldn't count on it, My Queen. They will only remember three facts -- you called out to Ares, he answered your call, and when you demanded he heal Xena, he complied. That is all they will remember, and that story is what will be passed down through all the generations of Amazons. And the more the story is told, the greater your powers will grow, and the more magnificent Queen Gabrielle will become."

Gabrielle sighed, "Unfortunately, I'm afraid you're right.

………………..-

While Buffy polished off her second helping of hash browns, sausage, and scrambled eggs, Dawn, Willow, Tara, Xander, Anya and Giles waited impatiently.

"Well, was she?" Dawn asked, unable to contain her curiosity. "Xena -- was she a Slayer?"

"No. No slayer. But my god, that woman was strong!"

"What was she like?"

"Tall," Buffy replied. "Beautiful, long dark hair, gorgeous blue eyes, and slender. I really thought she'd be stockier than she was."

"What about the other one, Gabrielle?"

"Short -- about my height, long strawberry blond hair, greenish eyes, and very personable. I liked her right away. She gave me some of her clothes to wear. And we got along great. But for some reason there was always this tension between Xena and me."

"So what happened after you got there?"

"Well, fortunately, I appeared in the woods, naked, as you well know. And I found them by following my nose. I could smell their campfire. After I showed up, Gabrielle gave me something to wear. I think maybe Xena didn't trust me because I didn't tell them right away I was a Slayer. Anyway, they were heading to an Amazon camp. So we had a couple of days to get to know each other."

"What did you talk about?"

"Well, let me see. I found out Xena's Chakram is a ring and not a disk like we thought. She never would let me hold it, but it looked like it was made of two different colored metals, like maybe copper and steel. And it was inset with jewels on both sides. But then we got into this whole religious discussion after she said Ares gave it to her."

"The god of war, Ares?"

"The very one. She also mentioned knowing Hercules, and Bacchus -- another god. Of course I argued about how people believed in their gods even though they don't exist. And to prove me wrong, Xena yelled out, and poof, he appeared, right out of thin air. Good old Ares."

"Ares? He was REAL?"

"He looked real enough to me. Gabrielle said he was in love with Xena, but they both denied it. Anyway, since he claimed to be a god, I asked him if he'd send me home, but he wasn't much interested in anything except my Slayer powers. He didn't really do anything godly except appear and disappeared in a flash of red light."

"So, what was he like?"

"Very human looking. A bit taller than Xena, dark hair, goatee, black leather, and carrying a wicked looking sword. And quite a hunk I must admit. But I actually was a little disappointed. You figure a god would be like, twenty feet tall."

"So then what happened?"

"Well, we finally got into Amazon territory, and they challenged us."

"And that’s when you caught the arrow?" Xander asked.

"How did you know about THAT?" Buffy was shocked.

"You just finish your story and we'll tell you ours."

"Well like I said, we were challenged. Gabrielle was this Amazon queen, but no one recognized her until we got into their camp. And we met another queen named Ephiny. Then we got cleaned up, had a nice little feast, and I told them all about why I was there and who I was, the whole nine yards. And everything was fine until the next morning. We were eating breakfast and then all of a sudden, for absolutely no reason, Xena and I started fighting. It's like I was full of this blind rage and all I could think of was killing her! Now, I realize it had to have been some kind of spell. But we fought and fought, and even after they pulled us apart, we still broke free and went after each other."

Chapter Twenty-five

"How are you feeling?"

"Tired. A little shaky. And hungry. In fact, I'm starved."

Gabrielle went to the door of the hut.

"Can anyone find something for Xena to eat? I'd appreciate it."

As she went back inside, there was a flurry of activity. Everyone was scrambling to find food worthy of the companion of Queen Gabrielle.

"I suppose you're wondering what happened."

"Yes."

"It was a curse. We were told that Alara had one of her sister Amazons wish that you and Buffy would fight to the death. She said something about 'it would be so,' and then she vanished, just like the gods do. It was all we could do to keep you two from killing each other."

"So how did you do it?"

"I called Ares. And when he got here, I told him you and Buffy had been cursed. So he hit the both of you with his energy orbs, knocked both of you unconscious and removed the curse. And then he had Aesclepius heal you."

"And what did he want in return? Some big favor, no doubt."

"Of course. But there's more."

"I can't wait."

Gabrielle took a breath, knowing Xena wasn't going to like what was coming.

"I talked Ares into sending Buffy home, but it will cost you another favor."

"Well, that's just what I wanted to hear."

"I know. And I’m sorry, but she couldn't stay here. She doesn't belong here."

"I know. And don't worry about Ares. I'm sure I can work around anything he asks for. Did Aesclepius heal up Buffy, too?"

"No. I asked him but he was too angry at Ares for making him heal you. Ares sent her back just like she was, all beaten up. I only hope her healing powers kept her from dying. I just wish there was some way I could let her know what happened to her, and how she got back."

"What about sending her a message in one of your scrolls? That's how she found out about us."

"You're right! That's a great idea! I just wish I knew which ones they read, so I'd know for sure which one to use. The trouble is, she never said."

"Actually, she did mention one of them before we got here. I think you were asleep at the time. It was the one where Hercules and I freed Prometheus. Just add it to the bottom of that one."

……………….-

"Okay, now I've told you MY story, so what happened here?"

"Well, after you left all your stuff, Giles hypnotized me so I'd remember the spell. And I wrote it down but I couldn't read it, I forgot how. So Anya called Halfrek, her vengeance friend, who read it over and found that D'Hoffryn had changed the last line. And when we told her where you went and who you wanted to find, she remembered that she was there!"

"I don't remember any Vengeance Demon."

"But that's just it, she wasn't one when you first got there. But she said after listening to you talking about D'Hoffryn, somehow she found him and convinced him to turn her into one. And SHE was the one who put the spell on you two!"

"Who was it, the one who changed?"

"The one that gave the order for the arrow to be shot at you."

"Alara, her name was Alara. I knew there was something about her I didn't like. But why? What did we ever do to her?"

"She just didn't like you, none of you, I guess. She said after you two started fighting, she lost interest and left for Rome."

"So what else was there?"

"That's just about it. Halfrek translated the spell, but it was no good since it had to be spoken in the proto-Sumerian. We wanted to go back to find you, but we had no way to do it. And I guess we'll never know how you got back."

Buffy thought for a minute.

"You know, I mentioned to Gabrielle that she should add more details to her stories. Maybe she wrote something about it in one of the ones you and Tara haven't read yet."

"Could be."

A week later Buffy was sitting at the kitchen counter, trying to decide which bills should be paid first, the second, and so on. Dawn was at school, Xander was at the construction work site, and Anya was at the Magic box with Giles.

Willow and Tara were in class at UCSD, until they burst into the kitchen.

"We found it!" Willow exclaimed.

"Found what?"

"The answer! How you were sent back to us!"

"Yeah," Tara said. "We read through all the scrolls we hadn't read yet, but there was nothing there. So we went back to the first ones. And there it was!"

"It was at the very bottom of the one about Xena and Hercules freeing Prometheus," Willow continued. "We kind of ignored it the first time because it was so faded."

"It was written with a different kind of ink, but after putting it under ultraviolet light we could make it out."

"What did it say?"

"Well, basically it said 'the killer of the Bacchae was returned home with no curse by Ares the God of War.' So apparently Ares changed his mind, removed the spell, and sent you back here."

"Hmm, a curse, huh? Well I guess that's as good a description of the spell as any. I wonder why he changed his mind. I just hope Xena was okay. It's too bad we never got to really know each other."

"Yeah," Willow echoed. "If you two ever got together -- talk about an ass-kicking tag team!"

Buffy was silent for a few seconds, then she said, "Willow, you still have that translation don't you?"

"Yeah, a copy of it. Giles took the original. I understand he's really made a name for himself with the language scholars. Not only with the spell, but with the translation. Why?"

"I was just wondering if there was someway you could figure out how to make it work."

"Why? NO! You're not thinking about going back again! Are you?"

"I was thinking about it. I never got to see the Collosseum, or the Parthenon, or any of the other great ruins while they were new. And I'd like to return Gabrielle's clothes to her. And I'd really like to start fresh with Xena. I think that if we could start over we could be friends."

The End (Or Not)

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