CT: Horsefeathers Chapter One by Xena


The entire tavern was awakened by a banging on the front door. Xena was the first one down the stairs, Gabrielle trailing behind and trying to get her lifemate to at least put on a robe (it had been a warm night).

The warrior grabbed the offered robe, wrapped it around her body and then asked, "What do you want?"

A muffled response answered, "Please! We need your help! Something is attacking our livestock!"

"Xena, I know that voice!" Gabrielle said ernestly. "It's all right, it's Marius the Blacksmith."

Xena nodded, trusting her partner's impeccable instincts, and unbolted the heavy front door. Swinging it open, the panicked and out of breath man tumbled inside, tripping over the doorstep and landing on the floor with a THUD.

Ever the diplomatic one, especially in the middle of the night Xena stod over him and asked, "What do you think we can do at this hour? It's dark outside. Better to wait until morning and then track the thieves."

"Did somebody say thief? It wasn't me, I was asleep." came Autolycus' voice as he joined the others. Noticing their visitor he greetd him, "Hey! Glad to see it wasn't my imagination thumping on our door and waking everyone up. So what's the deal, anyway?" he yawned and pulled up a chair.

Marius accepted Gabrielle's hand to help him up off the floor and told them, "It was awful! They swooped down from the skies and stampeded them! Crashed right through my new fence, they did!"

"Hold on, who swooped down?" Xena asked. "Harpies?"

"Bacchae?" Gabrielle added.

"Really, really big birds?" Autolycus got in on the act.

Marius shook his head no. "Horses." he said, his eyes on the floor as if nobody would believe his words. "They were on flying horses, so help me Zeus."

"That's impossible!" Kha's voice intoned from the stairway where she was standing with her husband.

Xena's eye grew distant as if lost in old memories. She pursed her lips ever so slightly and Gabrielle laid a gentle hand on her forearm. "Xena?" she asked softly. "What is it?"

"It's not impossible." the warrior said. "I've seen such things before. A long, long time ago."

Chapter 2 by Xena

"Xena?" the Bard's voice filtered through the many thoughts in the warrior's head. "Xena, what did you mean by flying horses not being impossible?"

With a sigh, Xena pulled up a chair and signalled those awake to join her. "Let me start by saying that I believe you." she told the blacksmith, who smiled gratefully. "Yes, Gabrielle, I've seen them before. I've ridden them before. What I can't figure out is *why* they're all the way here in Greece! And why?"

There was a puff of blue smoke and Ares appeared next to them. Yawning, he stretched and said, "OK what's up? I sensed some serious emotional turmoil down here and..." he saw the Blacksmith eyeing him with a mixture of extreme fear and awe. "Don't get too uptight." he said as he pulled up a chair to join them. "Yeah, I'm really him, Ares the God of War, yadda yadda. I kill people with just my sharp wit...go on, Xena, what were you saying?"

Trying not to laugh at Marius' dumbfounded expression, Xena gathered her wits about her and continued, "A long time ago." she took Gabrielle's hand in her own and squeezed it. "A *very* long time ago, right after I left Chin I travelled to the North. Far, far to the North."

"Whoa." Ares interjected. "Just how far North are we talking about? Because I recall a few years time when I lost track of your bad self." he winked at the others. "And she *was* bad. In a very good way."

"So far North, Ares, that the Olympians couldn't see where I was. I travelled to the land of the Vikings, and to Valhalla."

"You died?" Gabrielle said in shock. "The bards tell tales of the Norsemen and their Gods. They say that warriors slain in battle go to Valhalla. THAT Valhalla?"

Xena reached up and pulled the stunned Gabrielle down to sit in her lap. Entwining her arms around her she said, "Yes and no. It was the same Valhalla, I just wasn't dead."

Kha snorted. "How did you pull that one off?"

"Long story short I befriended Odin the King of the Norse Gods. He made me a Valkyrie.... they're somewhat like Norse Amazons." Xena explained. "Valkyries ride those flying horses. So yes, I've seen them and I know they exist."

Gabrielle knew her lifemate almost as well as she knew herself. She knew that Xena was holding alot more back than she was telling, but she also thought that Xena would tell her everything she wanted to know if she asked. But right now, the warrior was only giving out needed information. It must be a very painful story for the warrior to tell, the bard mused to herself.

"Great." Ares said. "Now some intruders are tresspassing on Greek land. I feel a battle coming on! Let's go kick some Viking butt!"

"Wait, Ares." Xena held up a hand, causing the God of War to make a face of impatience. "Marius, tell me about whom was riding these horses. What did they look like?"

The blacksmith thought back to the encounter, then answered "It was dark and I was frightened." he explained. "But from what I could tell they were just people like you and me. Some men, some women. That's all."

"Some men?" Xena stod up. "Then it can't be the Valkyries. Only women are Valkyries. So at least one part of this mystery is solved."

"And what part would that be?" Autolycus asked.

"I know that somebody stole some of Odin's flying horses. And anybody powerful and smart enough to pull something like that off is an enemy to be reckoned with."

Gabrielle looked up at Xena, her eyes questioning. "So where do we go from here?"

The warrior sighed. "I wish I knew."

Chapter 3 By Xena

Xena lay in bed, trying to will sleep to come. Beside her she felt Gabrielle stir, then snuggle further underneath the coverlet, only a shock of hair sticking out. The warrior smiled, then relaxed her body once more.

Jedi yawned, rolling over onto his back so all four legs were sticking up in the air. Nestled between Xena and Gabrielle the sheepdog was balanced perfectly for such a feat. Xena thought he looked pretty darned adorable.

Silently she chided herself for letting her mind wander. Well, if she couldn't sleep she may as well get up. As she got out of bed Jedi scrambled to his feet, bumping a sleeping Jace. The tiny yellow dog growled deep in his throat, yet never truly woke up. It was the canine equivalent of a child's ancient complaint.."He's touching me!"

Jedi and Xena quietly made their way outside, shutting the door behind and padding down the stairs into the darkness of the tavern. Xena lit a lamp, and sat in her rocking chair by the fire. It was mostly embers now, and she stirred them so that tiny flames burst forth. She added several logs to it as Jedi curled up on the hearth, yawning and then going right back to sleep, content that he was near Xena. The warrior envied him his sleeping talent.

As she sat staring into the fire she mulled over in her mind again and again what she knew of the stolen horses of Odin. Try as she might, she simply couldn't figure out why somebody would do such a thing. No God she knew would want to break unspoken laws of that kind of theft, much less take the stolen horses into an enemy territory. There *had* to be a reason, though.

Suddenly her eyes snapped open, and she knew what she had to do. She had to speak to Odin himself, and to do that she had to return to Valhalla.

Chapter 4 By Xena

Xena packed silently in the dark of the room she shared with Gabrielle. She still didn't know what Odin thought of her after all these years and they hadn't exactly left on the best of terms. It was best not to get the Bard in a dangerous situation.

The Warrior smiled to herself as she watched her lifemate sleeping. She knew that when she awoke there would be Tartarus to pay. If there was one thing that ticked Gabrielle off it was being left behind. But there was no choice this time..Xena was unwilling to place Gabrielle in the kind of danger she may face.

Slinging her pack over her shoulder, Xena leaned over and kissed the Bard on the top of her head (the only place that wasn't covered up with the blankets). Gabrielle stirred, rolled over and snuggled deeper into the coverlet mumbling, "Just a few more minutes...I love you, Xe..." and drifted back off to sleep.

Xena placed a piece of parchment on her pillow as a sort of explanation concerning her disappearance. Then she slipped out of the room, followed eagerly by Jedi. The small sheepdog fairly danced down the stairs in front of Xena, giving tiny little barks as he darted in and out again, seeking to herd his mistress faster down the stairs. Once on the main floor he ran to the door and looked back at Xena, asking as plain as day with his body language, "Where are we going?"

A frown crossed Xena's feature. She had forgotten about Jedi. The dog would wake the dead as soon as the door shut between them. If she wanted to keep her leaving a secret there would be no choice but to let the diminutive hairball come with her.

"Gabrielle's going to freak." she muttered. "I won't take her but I'll take the dog. I'm never going to hear the end of this one.." she opened the door and she and Jedi went out into the cold and still dark early morning.

As they walked past the stable a shrill whinny greeted them, and Xena cringed once more. Argo. She had forgoten about Argo.

"Who goes there?" A sleepy Toby asked as the barn door opened. The lad lived in a small room on the main stable floor.

"It's me." the Warrior answered, passing his room and going straight to Argo's stall.

"Have I overlept?" the small man asked, coming out into the aisleway clothed in his nightshirt.

"I didn't mean to wake you." Xena told him. "I have to go on a trip, and I need you to look after Argo for me while I'm gone."

"You know I will, Lord Xena. You don't even have to ask me that."

"I knew I could count on you. Now listen, Toby...Gabrielle is going to try to follow me, but don't let her. It's too dangerous."

"Where are you going?"

"Norse Country."

"To the North?"

"NORSE." she innunciated, smiling a bit. "Yes, it's to the north, but..just make sure she doesn't follow me all right?"

"Yes, M'Lord."

"And stop calling me that." she told him for the millionth time. The lad simply grinned, and went back to bed wondering how on earth he was going to stop Gabrielle from doing anything.

Argo whuffled an early morning greeting and Xena threw her an armful of hay. As the mare ate, Xena petted her shoulder and smoothed her mane. "I can't take you where I'm going." she said. "You have to stay here and be good. Got that? Be nice."

Argo blew air into her trough, sending hay particles raining down on the warrior's head. "Nice." she commented, getting as much greenery out of her hair as she could. With one last pat she and Jedi exited the stall, then the barn, and continued down the road.

Once out of the Amphipolis town limits Xena turned North and began to track. Marius had told her which direction he was when he and his herd were attacked by the people on flying horses. If she could find one of those horses, she'd have a free ride to Valhalla.

Jedi was no help. He was a herder, not a tracker. So he danced around in front of Xena, effectively erasing many tracks. "It's a good thing I like you." she growled low, and tried to keep him behind her. Finally she had enough and put him on a long leather leash to have some semblence of control over his exuberant leaps and bounds. She knew she'd need it later when she got that horse she needed.

The Destroyer of Nations had been one of the world's best trackers, and who she had evolved into shared the same skills. It was difficult, but she tracked the herd down in the end and ended up laying just out of sight next to a very secluded camp. She counted heads.

"Two men, two women." she thought to herself. "And if I'm not mistaken, I know that mare over there."

Odin's herd were immortal equines. Even though it had been many years since Xena had been a Valkyrie it was possible that the mount she had ridden in those days was alive and kicking.

The horses were all tethered by the leg to various small trees. Xena wracked her brain trying to think of a way she could go get one without Jedi getting in the way. In the end, though, she realised there was no other way but to take the dog along.

"Come on...and be quiet!"

Perhaps because he sensed the seriousness of the situation and the mood of Xena, Jedi followed along quietly, not even tugging at the tether. As the approached the mare Xena had singled out, the horse let out a low nicker of greeting. Xena's scent was familiar to her, and the Warrior's heart leaped with recognition.

"Warhammer, you nasty mare...how's it going?" she whispered and cut the line holding the flying horse to the tree. The tack was left near each horse so it was a simple matter to tack up the mare and ready her for flight. The brazen horse thieves had stolen the very saddles and bridles used by the Valkyrie, and Xena furrowed her brow. "There's a special place in Tartarus for losers like those." she muttered to herself. All ready at last she went to pull Jedi close to pick him up, but the leash was slack. He had slipped his collar!

"Jedi..Jedi! Get over here!" she hissed.

No answer.

"Looking for this?" A man's voice broke the stillness of the night and Xena whirled to see one of the thieves holding her dog. Jedi did not look happy being held by a stranger. His ears were laid flat against his head and he licked his lips and yawned nervously.

"Put him down."

"Give me my horse."

"This isn't your horse. It's Odin's. And he's going be really be mad when I tell him where I can find you."

"You make one move and I'll slit this dog's throat." It was then the warrior saw the glint of steel in the moonlight. Even though her heart was beating so hard she feared it would explode, she feigned nonchalance.

"He means nothing to me." she said, mounting the mare. She turned away from the man and the dog and all Tartarus broke loose.

She was leaving! Without him! Jedi howled a mournful and ear splitting howl, causing the man to drop him in surprise.

"Atta boy!" Xena called. "C'mon, Jedi!" She spurred Warhammer forward in a gallop and was heartened to hear Jedi's yips of "Wait for me!" behind her as he ran to catch up. They were out of sight of the thieve's camp in no time.

As soon as they were out of sight and far enough away, Xena pulled the dark bay mare up and dismounted, gathering her dog in her arms. She searched al through his thick fur, but there was no sign of injury. She breathed a sigh of releif. "Let's go for a ride." she told Jedi, and bundled him in a baby sling she had made for this purpose. He was big for the sling, but hung happily in front of the warrior as she swung back up into the saddle. "You need to go on a diet." she informed the dog. He licked her nose, then looked forward between the mare's ears. He loved rides!

"Go home!" She ordered Warhammer, and kicked just behind the girth with both legs. Two canter strides later they were airborne and heading for Valhalla.

Chapter 5 By Xena

Warhammer flew high above the world, obscured by clouds from the view of those on the earth. The gait was the same rythm as a horse from anywhere else in the world, but smoother as there was no jarring from the hard ground under the airborne hooves.

Xena rocked along, enjoying the feeling of flight in this form. Her memory reached back to when she had ridden this horse daily, and when she had first me the God known as Odin.

It had been a lifetime ago, and she had been a very different person. She just hoped she could persuade Odin that that was the case.

Jedi was content in his sling in front of the Warrior. He snuggled down and never struggled once. He seemingly enjoying the wind rushing through his thick mane of hair.

All too soon the flying horse changed direction and began losing altitude. Through the clouds and mist Xena caught her first glimpse of Valhalla. Warhammer soon after touched down in the stableyard and at the sight of whom was mounted on her every Valkyrie present drew their weapons.

"Xena!" one spat. "You of all people are *not* welcome here! Do you have a death wish, coming to Valhalla? Is it not enough you poisoned it?"

Xena bit her lip rather than to lash back. They were right...the Xena they remembered had brought dishonour, pain and loss to the Valkyries and the Norse People. The Xena they rememberd had stolen the Rheingold and created a monster borne of the flesh of the former Leader of the Valkyries, Brunhilda. The Xena they knew had disappeared forever, though they didn't know it yet.

Xena took a deep breath and only said. "I need to see Odin. Now."

The Valkyries all laughed. "Why not?" The spokeswoman answered. "He'll probably cut your head off before you speak two words to him. Follow me...."

"No thank you, I know the way." Xena growled, setting Jedi down. The Sheltie stretched after his long ride in the sling, ambled over to a plant and relieved himself. "I think that about says it all." the Warrior grinned, and whistling for her dog she set off to find the King of the Norse Gods.

Back in Amphipolis, Gabrielle had awoken to find Xena gone and only a note (and a poor one at that) explaining her absense. The entire Tavern was made aware of her fury as she yelled curses at her lifemate and punched the pillows in frustration.

Kha cautiously poked her head in the doorway. "Are you all right?"

"NO!" Gabrielle shrieked. "I'm NOT all right! She left me behind AGAIN! Why does she DO that? Does the think I'm a baby?"

The Egyptian leaned against the doorframe in a casual manner. "Hardly. She just wants to keep you safe."

"Does it ever occur to her that in this world and as long as I live with her that there *is* no safe place?" the Bard was calming down slowly, but her heart still stung. Why couldn't Xena just trust her enough to take her along?

"Uh...you should know Jedi's all right. He's probably with her. He's gone, and I know there was no break ins, and probably he would have barked when she snuck out."

"She took THE DOG?" It was almost too much for Gabrielle to take. She'd take the dog but not her lifemate...what was that screwy Warrior thinking? What use would that sheepdog be in a fight? But as for Gabrielle, well, she had a staff and was darned good at using it, too! The more she thought about it, the more Gabrielle was determined to find her partner.

Kha noticed the change of expression on the Bard's face. "Uh-oh. What are you thinking?" she asked.

"I'm going to follow her, so don't try to stop me."

Kha put her hands in the air defensively. "Me? Stop you? Not when you're worked up like this! I feel for Xena when you catch up with her, I'll give you that."

Gabrielle was suddenly her cool, calm self and it sort of unnerved the Egptian Warrior. "Wanna come along? Maybe we can get some of the others to come, too. Strength in number and all that. What do you say?"

Chapter 6 by Kha

Kha nodded "I would enjoy the outing. I will summon my sprite to assist Sennedjem with the twins."

She hurried to her room there and explained to the concerned Sennedjem that Gabrielle needed her, and they owed their friends so much she was going to assist her.

Sennedjem agreed "Val can help with the twins. I have a word for you. Caution...use caution."

She nodded finished packing a saddle pack that Xena had devised for long trips, which she had copied faithfully. She included packages of traveling food, and was sure to include a honey cake bar which boosted energy. Dressing in her familiar black leather armor, and putting all her blades snugly in place she heard Gabrielle moving down the hall. Quickly she kissed Sennedjem, and her twins, and hurried out the packs slung over her shoulder. She braided her hair into a massive braid as was her habit when on the trail.

She looked at Gabrielle "We can ride double if you want, or we can use my stallion and you can use the mare I just bought. I leave that to you, but we would cover ground quicker if we both rode."

She moved into the stable calling for Toby to ready her stallion. A stray beam of sunlight from the opened door caught her well maintained scimitar and it glittered dangerously.

She watched as Toby chose her best tack and prepared her stallion, who sensing something, pawed the ground till she sharply commanded him in her native tongue to be still. He obeyed a rueful look on his face. She heard a low inquiring whine and looked around and down. Lupus, her wolf now half grown had come in his head cocked. She sighed "You have to remain here lupus, to help Sennedjem guard the tavern. I promise you when I return we will go hunting." She watched Toby attach her quiver and bow that had been her solstice gift from Xena to the front of her saddle. She turned to tell Gabrielle "I am as ready as I ever will be."

Chapter 7 By Xena

Now that they were actually going, Gabrielle felt some pangs of doubt creep in. "Are you sure we can find her?" she asked.

"I'm not absolutely certain, but I do know the general direction she headed. Plus I'm sure our more ethereal friends will help us locate her."

There was a burst of pink sparklies and suddenly Aphrodite was standing next to them. She hugged her arms to her ample chest. "Brrrr! It's chilly out here! Why don't you go back inside and get all snuggly by the fire? Hey..." she looked around. "Where's the Warrior Babe?"

Kha smothered an impulse to groan and cover her eyes.

"That's whee we're going, Aphrodite." she explained to the pink clad Goddess. "To find Xena."

"Ooooh." 'Dite nodded sagely. "So you're know where you're going, huh?"

"North." they both answered in Unison.

"That's a big place." the Goddess of Love giggled. "Where exactly North?"

"Toby mentioned some place called Val..Val..."

"Valhalla? For sure? That is so cool! I haven't partied there in years!" Aphrodite jumped and down with excitement, jiggling in all the right places. Warrior and Bard smiled despite themselves.

"Can you help us find her?" Kha asked.

"I'll do better than that...I'll get you two there! That horsie...well...he's good and all, but you can't get there from here if you know what I mean. It's like hiking to Olympus. You mortal types just can't do that. What I *can* do is this..." she snapped her fingers, sending a shower of pink sparkleis all over Kha's horse's body.

He shook himself thoroughly, then sneezed. The impending force of the sneeze propelled him four feet off of the ground where he hovered.

"Tubular!" 'Dite exclaimed.

"WHAT did you do to my horse?" Kha sputtered.

"Made him a Honourary member of Odin's herd...the Flying Horse Club. Very exclusive. Now he knows how to get to the Stable of the Valkyries...that's where Xena's probably headed. She used to be a real bad ass back in the day.." she broke off as she noticed Gabrielles's glare. "Right...you know about that, huh? Anyway, I'll let Xena fill you in on all of that because believe me, you haven't heard it all yet. I'll pop in later to see how you guys like the Norse life. Byeeee!"

Before either could protest they found themselves riding double on the horse and the horse up in the air heading North. It was a bit of a shock to them all.

Aphrodite hugged herself and squealed with happiness. "I am SO good!" she kissed her own hand. "'Dite, you did a good thing just there." and then she popped out.

Chapter 7 By Leonie

Mateksi watched Gabrielle and Kha mount the floating horse and ride into the sky. Aphrodite blinked out of existance soon after they were gone.

Out from the hidden shadows of the forest, the dark skinned, raven haired woman stepped. Her jaw hanging open she gazed into the clear sky, seeing nothing but clouds and birds. "Econ Pica Sni!" (Impossible) she gasped. Behind her finally trailed Wet Ears her companion and mount, Wet Ears. "Ponies do not fly! People do not sparkle and disappear." Wet Ears came up behind his Mistress and nuzzled her hand, not only distracting her from her pointless search of the sky but also for a bit of a cuddle perhaps even a carrot or two from her satchel. Mateksi grinned as the pony began blowing hot puffs of breath on her hand, guiding it to the satchel. "Do you think of nothing but your stomach? Should have called you Empty Belly, not Wet Ears, it would have made a heap more sense." Mateksi gave the pony what he wanted so badly if only to give her a minute to think on what she just saw.

Kicking Horse would have some sort of explanation of course. Logical, Kicking Horse would not think she saw a horse float up into the sky. Kicking Horse would understand what had happened or have an explanation of why it happened. But Kicking Horse was back at Cyrene's. She had refused to come on this trip to help gather herbs and leaf cuttings, not that Mateksi minded too much. It was nice to have some time alone in this strange land, to admire its beauty and explore its bounty. Not to mention that Kicking Horse did not have the gentle hands needed for fine work needed to cut the plant without killing its roots. Oh, she bested anyone at shooting targets with her arrow or taming the wildest ponies. The gathering was Mateski's own work by choice, the planting, the nurturing of it. Many things they shared but not everything, it was good to be separate, even from your best friend.

"I wonder where they went?" she said to noone in particular. Cyrene had mentioned Xena had gone away.. quickly, but not much more. "And that woman, that nude one..." Mateksi trailed off, her cheeks tinting pink under her dusky skin with embarrassment. With a snap of her fingers the answer was upon her. "Aphrodite! That was she, Ares did not give half as good a description of her beauty."

Sighing she added. "How I wish we could join them. Wouldn't it be something to go on such an adventure that one needed a flying pony for." As soon as the words dropped from her mouth an idea sprung into her mind.

Kneeling down on the dewy grass she held her arms above her, as if beckoning to the sky.

"I call upon the God and Goddess' of this land.

Those not mine, but given to me by my Totem's hand.

Grant unto me the promise of adventure.

Place on me the gift of knowlege;

So I may travel upon these lands not unaware but by the plan."

Opening her eyes, she allready had a grin on her face from her own foolishness. The smile fell and soon was replaced with the jaw dropping gaze again as her gaze lit upon the figure she now was certin to be Aphrodite.

Chapter 9 By Fiona

"Hey, Toots! What's shakin', Babe?", Aphrodite cheerily greeted the darker skinned woman. "Wuzzup?"

Mateski took a moment to translate what she heard, almost certain it was in a language she understood.

Falling on her knees, she pressed her forehead to the ground in front of the beauty.

"Please forgive me for calling upon you, Oh Graceful and Exquisite One, but I have need of your help, if you will spare it."

"Get up, get up. You'll get your, um...clothes? all messed up. Say, don't they have any lace or pretty pink floaty stuff wherever you're from?"

Rising confusedly, Kicking Horses' friend looked down at herself in confusion. She's THOUGHT she was dressed properly, but who knew the mind of the Gods?

"I'm sorry, this is all I have."

"Not to worry. We can fix you up later. So, what's up? What's goin' on? What's happenin', hunh?"

"I was watching from the woods and saw what you did with Gabrielle and Kha. Well, their horse, that is. We", she said, glancing at her pony, "would dearly love to help them in their quest. Can you help US?"

"Ain't no thing but a chicken wing, Suger Puff!"

With a wave of her perfecly manicured hand, pink sparkles drifted over Wet Ears, leaving Mateski, now looking completely befuddled, to make a wild leap for the gently levitating pony's back.

"Toodles, Babe!"

And with that, Aphrodite disappeared again.

Chapter 10 By Xena

Xena strode through the Halls of Valhalla. It was as unchanged as if she had merely gone away for a day or so to return. The few people she met within the Halls looked at her with curiosity and awe mixed with a heavy dose of fear.

The Warrior had little difficulty finding her way to Odin's Chambers. She had tread the path often enough, and she was surprised to realise as she entered that she said a silent word or two to Ares for protection. A habit from her past that she found oddly comforting as she went to face the God she had openly betrayed.

Odin looked up as she entered. For a brief moment he seemed not to know who she was, and then confusion turned to recognition and then to pure hatred. "YOU!" he roared, standing and striding towards her in a fluid movement that spoke only of power and Divine Wrath. "You DARE come back here after what you did?"

Xena's face remained calm and although her heart beat about three times faster than usual, she didn't take even one step back. She rose to her full height and simply said, "I came to talk, Odin. I came to help."

The blonde God snorted and began to pace, unsure of just what to do in this most unexpected of circumstances. "You? Help us? Why? What do you *really* want?" he turned, his eyes boring into her very soul.

"I know where they are, Odin." Xena said, her voice loud and firm. "I know where the Valkyrie's horses were taken. And I've come to help you get them back."

In control of his legendary temper once more, the tall Norse God returned to his Throne. He sat, then regarded the woman Warrior with a look One usually reserved for cobras. "And why should I trust you of all people?" he asked. "You who betrayed the Norse People, their Gods and their World? You, who changed honour into bloodlust and love into disgust? You, who took pure joy and turned it to pure hatred and pain. Why...should...I... trust...you?"

He leaned forward with his last sentence, spitting out his last word and Xena could feel his pain reach out to her like the tentacles of some lake monster. Her own response seemed like a child's.

"I'm not the person I used to be."

Odin snorted and turned his eyes away from her. "You're lying, Xena...your lips are moving."

Xena stepped forward, "Odin, I know you and your People are hurting. I know that I caused it and I'm sorry. If I could go back and do it again I would change things!"

"No you wouldn't." he said, and Xena knew his words were true. "You liked yourself and your ways too much to do anything differently. You would do it all again, because that's who you are."

"You're wrong." Xena said, her voice strong and steady. "It's who I *was*. Not who I am. And I'll spend the rest of my life making up for my past mistakes. It's what I do now. So do you want my help or not, Odin? Do you want me to fix my past mistakes here or should I just ride off and let you find you're flying ponies yourself?"

The King of the Norse Gods took a deep breath. He used all his skills to look into the soul of the one standing before him. He thought he knew her...that he knew what she stood for. But this woman did indeed seem different somehow than the brash, lustful, bloodthirsty Xena he knew and was betrayed by in the past. He was about to give his answer to her when there came a clamour heard all the way into the bowels of Valhalla.

"The Valkyries!" he exclaimed, rising to his feet and heading for the door. "Something's wrong! They're saying something about intruders!"

Xena followed Odin back the way she had come, this time at a dead run. When they reached outside and the courtyard, they both skidded to a halt. Xena's mouth dropped open in surprise as she saw Kha and Gabrielle dismount and stand facing them. Mateksi, too, had caught up with the riders and was also there, looking somewhat chagrined and wondering just what she had gotten herslef into.

Completely surrounding them, the Valkyries stood in a circle, their weapons drawn and aimed at the group.

Gabrielle raised her hand in a weak wave and managed a wan smile. "Hi Xena." she said.

Chapter 11 By Kha

Kha looked around at the Valkyrie, her weapon still in its sheath across her shoulders. She half sighed wondering if she had done the right thing till she saw her friend. She half smiled listing her empty right hand in greeting, "I brought somebody to see you. She got lonesome, and asked if I wanted to come."

She looked around her eyes taking the hall in "Impressive...all of it." She said in a low even voice "So, this is the famed Valhalla. And you..you are the Valkyrie of legend. I am Kha from the land of Isis and Amun Ra. I am here to help in any way I am needed."

She smiled a tiny bit at Mateski making a comforting sign with her right hand which was white knuckled from clenching her horses reins. She was entirely out of her depth and she knew it. These gods and goddesses she had never dealt with and waited with marked tension to see what sort of response she would get.

Chapter 12 By Xena

Xena looked to Odin as it was his call. He would either order their deaths, or simply wave his hand and do it himself. Or he would accept their offer of help.

Then the King of the Norse Gods did something none of them expected...he burst out laughing! A big, booming laugh that seemed to carry to the far reaches of the world.

"You are a true and mighty Warrior!" he said to Kha. "I would invite you become a Valkyrie if you were of my Land. Instead, I believe your words and we'll discuss these matters further over mead and food. Lower your weapons!" he ordered the surrounding women. "These people are our guests."

"But Odin! What about Xena?" the Valkyrie who seemed to be the spokesperson stepped forward, her eyes never letting Xena out of their range.

"What about her?" the God spread his arms wide. "She's here, and her horse is the only way out of this place. I have decided I want to hear what she's got to say. Do you have a problem with that, Anna?"

Chastised, the Valkyrie backed down, lowering her eyes. "No, Odin. It's your decision to make. But if it were up to me.."

"Yes, yes...you would kill them all." he glanced knowingly at Xena. "A philosophy you are familiar with, eh Xena?"

Xena grunted a sad affirmative. "I should be...I taught it to them."

"Somebody mentioned food?" Mateksi asked.
"So I did! To the Dining Hall!" Odin ordered, and the group of visitors followed Odin to the feat that awaited them.

Chapter 13 By Kha

As they were seated, well made cloaks were given to the visitors to help them in the chill of the hall. Kha's hand strayed to the white bearskin and she ran her hand over it appreciating the workmanship in the fur, and especially the golden fasteners that held it shut.

She looked at the table that groaned under the weight of the feast among which were several roast boars. She, in spite of herself, hung back to observe customs, and there appeared to be none. Odin gestured the party forward to sit near him. Not far away a large hearth crackled with whole logs in thee fire sending up aromatic cedar smoke.

Her eyes wandered taking the sight of the people all tall, well made specimen of men and women. She accepted the wooden goblet brimming with a new drink to her, mead, but which she gamely tried. She sighed "I have tasted none better. In fact, this is the first time I have tasted she whispered to Mateksi.

She reached for the sliced boar and was handed a huge haunch like the other guests, a mark of honor. She gamely began to eat the well prepared food, and stopped. She felt eyes repeatedly looking her way then when she would look around, she could not figure out WHO was looking at her.

She accepted the vegetables curious what they were, and Odin ahhed "From the new world, beyond the great ocean. Delicious aren't they?" Curiously he asked "I know little of Egypt, preferring my cold northern lands, are there many like you?"

Unsure as how to answer, she shook her head "No My Lord Odin, they are more docile mostly. I am told frequently, by my mate that I am somewhat a rarity. A warrior in a race where women are relatively free, yet they are not at all like me. Few are allowed to carry weapons still. I was an exception because where Sennedjem and I lived, everybody was armed, because it was a matter of survival against the Romans. Even I, at first, was not a warrior. I learned. a lot, and still more when I began to follow Xena. She has been an exceptionally patient teacher."

She saluted her friend with the mead.

She felt the eyes on the back of her head again and whirled. In the background was a woman of incredible bearing and beauty. She wore soft looking clothing, and was over cloaked in bearskins, and a fantastic helmet. She examined Kha from head to toe and asked "How came you here, without your mate to watch over you."

Kha looked at her and Odin sighed "sit down, fool, and mind your manners. I have a feeling this little one could make you regret casting your eyes on her. You have to forgive Freya. She is." Kha hazarded a guess "The Norse equivalent of Dite?" She corrected herself "Aphrodite, our goddess of love and beauty."

Small talk carried on about the room, and an impromptu duel sprang up between bickering gods. Kha cast a look at Xena to get their names, and asked in a whisper "Is it always this.lively?" She got a nod, and held her tankard out again for more mead and settled back to watch. The goddess Frey, kept her eyes on her and Kha found it disturbing, but did not protest. This, after all, was not her home, she was a guest, and she was like a fish out of water, unsure of the customs of these gods and goddesses, regarding visitors.

She cast a glance at Mateksi and offered her a smile, raising her tankard in a salute to her new friend she gave a toast including the entire table as she stood daringly she declared "Here is to new friends, and new companions in combat. May we stay friends for all time."

Chapter 14 By Xena

"A very good toast." Odin commented, drinking freely and signaling for more mead. "Here in Valhalla we have a custom perhaps you will enjoy...a Match, perhaps?"

The gathered throng cheered at the suggestion and Xena rolled her eyes. These people fought at the drop of a hat. No wonder she used to be so at home here.

"Odin, shouldn't we be discussing business?" she tried to interject. "Your horses..."

"Will keep." the God cut her off. "Now Kha, I'd like to see what you've learned from my former Valkyrie. What has the Dark One taught you? Care to demonstrate?"
"Odin, now is not the time!" Xena hissed. "Besides, I taught her very little, she's an accomplished warrior in her own right. I didn't.."

The King of the Norse Gods held up his hand for silence and then turned his direct glare onto the Warrior Princess. "Perhaps you want to challenge me?" he allowed a thin smile to grace his features. "Perhaps you think you can best me?"

"Challenge! Challenge!" the crowd began to chant.

Xena sighed in frustration. She hadn't gone there to fight, she had gone there to help. But all these people thought of was violence. They fought when they were happy, they fought when they were sad, they fought at celebrations and at funerals alike or over a glass of water. Any excuse to fight was turned into a battle royale over what? Bloodlust. And it was Xena who had taught them that. So in that sense, it was up to her to show them a better way.

"No." she said, picking up a forkful of food to eat. "I'm not challenging you."

Odin laughed heartily. "Lost your edge, eh Xena? Or perhaps it's only your courage you've lost?"

Kha's hand flashed out, her blade at the neck of the Norse God. "Nobody insults her in front of me." she hissed. "Not even a God."

"Kha, we're guests." Mateksi said nervously.

To the Egyptian's surprise, Odin laughed even harder than before. "You have loyalty!" he boomed. "Something we prize highly here. And honor, I'd wager. Remove your blade, I respect you."

Kha did so, marveling at the reaction she had received. These people truly did prize violence and blended it with the concept of honor. A strange yet interesting combination of values. And something she felt drawn to on a deeper level.

"Now, Xena...you know our customs. I'm sure you have no wish to be rude."

Xena set down her fork and pushed back from the long table. She stood, resigned.

"If fighting you will gain me time to talk seriously about a serious matter than so be it. You choose the weapons."

The crowd roared appreciatively, thumping knives and forks against the wooden table in a rowsing rhythm.

Odin and Xena went out in the large open space of the dining hall, squaring off. With a flick of his wrist the Norse God materialized a double bladed axe that looked like it could split a tree trunk in one swoop.

"Compensating for something, Odin?" Xena flashed a wicked grin.

"Draw your sword. I hope it's as sharp as your tongue."

"Oh, it's sharper. What are the rules?"

Odin laughed, "Rules? Why, the first one to draw blood is the winner!"

The hall fairly rocked with cheers. Xena's friends exchanged concerned glances and silently sent their good thoughts her way.

Xena drew her sword, laying her chakram on the table in front of Gabrielle. "Watch this for me, OK?" she winked.


"It's only a fight." Xena told her lifemate. "Like the million I've done before, and the million I'll do after."

"XENA!" Gabrielle suddenly cried out, and the warrior dodged to the side just as the heavy war axe imbedded in the table exactly where she had stood a moment ago.

"What are you doing?" she hissed, turning and immediately on the defense.

Odin shrugged. "That was the only rule." he said.

"Why am I not surprised?" Xena countered, and lunged.

It was at times like these that the Warrior Princess was glad of her rather active life. Fighting a God was not like fighting any other opponent. He disappeared to reappear behind her. He moved with lightning speed, and it took every trick she knew to avoid being chopped into pieces.

Odin dodged, she parried. He swept the axe down in a wicked arc and she rolled, not even trying to block his strength and the heavy instrument of war. Her only hope was speed and stamina.

Then as she had him backing and on the defense an idea came to her and she maneuvered him just enough so that his heel caught on a stool.

Down he went, and she was on him in a flash. Two quick jabs to the throat and it was over. Being immortal, the Pinch wouldn't kill him, but the telltale trickle of blood that came from his nose was all that was needed before she took it off as Freya declared, "Xena is the winner!"

Odin wiped his nose and held up his bloody hand to show the crowd. He laughed and slapped the Warrior on her back. "By all the Gods that ever were!" he exclaimed. "I enjoyed that! Works up the appetite! You haven't lost your edge, Xena...welcome back to Valhalla."

Nonplussed Xena sheathed her sword and simply replied, "Now can we talk business?"

Chapter 15 By Kha

Kha watched the feast pick up in intensity after the fight, and relaxed once more. She had found these northern gods fascinating. In fact, they believed deep inside as she did, to fight was to live. Hadn't she proved it by fighting almost all her adult life and she was still alive?

She leaned forward for another slice of meat and stopped. Freya was beckoning. Kha stood excusing herself to her friend and walked quietly over.

The goddess looked down at Kha from her great height, and said "Warrior, you must be exceedingly careful you know." Kha snorted and the goddess stated evenly "If not for you, for what you carry. It is no more than just begun in its conception, but I know these things, it is my domain. I care about mothers, and things concerning is my duty."

Kha whispered "I was told by a physician my twins would be my last..that it was good I had a girl and a boy."

Freya smiled a bit chilling Kha who despite herself looked over her shoulder at a burst of laughter at a fresh sally of comments between Xena and Odin.

She said "Hear me mortal who could have been one of the Valkyrie, this will be a daughter who will grow to be a renown warrior, like you, and she will accomplish much. Be careful when you fight...and wear this. It is a symbol of my protection."

An odd amulet on a pewter looking chain. Kha accepted it and felt dizzy for a moment. She looked at Freya who was now walking back towards the food, so she followed "What is this?" Freya looked at Kha and said in a soft whispery voice "My mark of favor...If in the future you have need of me, use this to summon me, but it must be a time of great need because it can only be used once...."

Kha nodded mutely, and went back to her seat

Chapter 16 By Xena

As Xena returned to the dining table her eye caught Odin's and knew he was at last ready to get down to business.

"So, Xena." he said, tearing off a huge hunk of meat with his teeth. "Tell me what you know about my missing horses?"

"They're being used to steal horses and other valuable livestock." The Warrior replied. "And I have a gut feeling there is something more insidious involved, too."

"Such as?" Freya interjected. The Valkyrie were really under her control, and as such she had a vested interest in finding the missing immortal equines.

Xena shook her head slowly, "I'm not sure. But I do know that there are two Rogue Valkyrie who are dealing with some bad characters. They must have been promised great wealth or great power to get involved with something that could not only strip them of their Valkyrie standing, but enrage you, Odin." she acknowledged the God.

"Who would promise such a thing?" Odin returned. "Nobody here in Valhalla. It must be one of your Foreign Gods."

Xena felt herself bristle. The Greek Gods were troublesome at times, she admitted that and knew it well. But to insult the entire Pantheon, well, it didn't sit well with her. "I've found that trouble often begins in your own back yard." she said, her eyes glinting dangerously.

A large, rambunctious Norse God boomed from the end of the long table, "Then maybe we should fight our own battles without foreign interference."

"Who is that?" Gabrielle whispered. The God made a funny feeling go up and down her spine. She couldn't look at him directly, something about him just spoke of trouble.

"Loki." Xena nodded. "I'm hardly a stranger here. Am I?"

The God in charge of discord, chaos, and trickery simply laughed. "Oh no, Xena! You're very well known here, in legend and fact. In fact, I haven't enjoyed myself so thoroughly ever since you left Valhalla."

"I'll bet." the Warrior muttered.

"So what is your plan of action?" Freya interjected.

"Pretty straight forward." Xena replied. "Take an army of Valkyrie, go back to Greece and get the horses back. After finding out who is behind this and bringing them to justice."

"And you think it will be that easy, do you?" Loki challenged.

"Easy?" the Warrior Princess said, letting a feral look creep into her eyes and smile, "Now where would be the fun in that?"

Chapter 17 by Leonie

Mateksi's mouth hung open just slightly at the though of all these large beings being Gods and Thoughts flew through her mind like wildfire. "Gabrielle" she whispered. "These are your Gods?"

"No, these are the Norse Gods. Mine are of the Greek Pantheon."

Mateksi's eye's sidled to Xena herself, standing before all these Gods as though she too held a place so lofty as theirs.

"Why do they not strike her down?"

Gabrielle grinned. "They wouldn't dare try."
Mateksi moved into the background again, chewing on her own thoughts and what Gabrielle had said. In her homeland one did not speak so freely to the Gods. Rarely did they ever even show themselves. And so many! There were women and men of all shapes and sizes, did they all represent something else. What were their powers? Did they all have followers?

Truly she had been play acting when she kneeled before the sky and proclaimed her wish for adventure. What had Aphrodite really granted her....

Chapter 18 by Xena

Xena glanced over and saw Gabrielle and Mateksi chatting together in low tones. A look of deep concentration was on Mateksi's feature.

"That must be a pretty deep conversation." The Warrior said as she leaned over and broke into the discussion. "Anything I can help with?"

"Mateksi's just getting the hang of this chatting with Gods thing." Gabrielle smiled. "It took me a little while, too, remember?"

Xena chuckled. "Sure I remember!"

"Who are they?" Mateksi ventured to ask. "And who is that one which I cannot hold his gaze? He must be very powerful."

Xena snorted. "That's Loki. God of trickery and discord here in Valhalla. Nobody can hold his gaze before being too creeped out. He's not the best one to get involved with."

Mateksi perked. That sounded familiar! "Like Coyote?" she asked.

"Now you've got me stumped. Who's Coyote?" Xena asked. Gabrielle leaned forward, eager to hear new tales from another land.

"Coyote is one of The Creators." she explained. "But he loves to play tricks. He loves to play tricks so much that he causes much trouble with them. If Coyote is your Totem then you may be the kind of person who loves playing tricks...but not everyone thinks they are funny."

"I think I see what you mean." Xena finally nodded. "But Loki goes a step further. He enjoys causing trouble. So be careful. I can't prove it, but I think he's involved with this whole thing."

"But who would help him from Olympus?" Gabrielle asked.

"I wish I knew."

Chapter 19 By Fiona

Aphrodite was kicking around Olympus, grumpily kicking at the glowing marble floor. Most of her friends had gone off to Valhalla to hang with the Norse Gods. She wasn't sure why they went, something about horses, flying, yada, yada. Who could remember these things?

She decided she'd go slumming and check out what was happening in the demi-god low-rent district of her home. It would beat the same ol', same ol' soap opera that was happening at home. Zeus stepping out on Hera, Hera trying to kill his offspring, Mercury flitting about, blah, blah, blah...

Her perfectly manicured tootsies twinkled a bit down the Mountain and wandered into one of the darker groves. She plunked herself down behind a tree in a petulant huff. She was Bee Oh Arr Eeeee Deee. BORED!

Suddenly, she heard familiar voices approached. One she had alove/hate thing going on with and the other was pure hate/hate.

Chapter 20 By Xena

A teeny tiny version of herself appeared on her shoulder. The vision was wearing a white gown exactly the same as 'Dite's pink one she always wore. "You know that eavesdropping is a bad thing to do." the tiny Aphrodite shook her finger at the Goddess. "Shame on you!"

Poof! On 'Dite's other shoulder yet another version of herself appeared, this one if bright crimson with tiny horns sprouting through her otherwise perfect blonde head. "Don't listen to her!" the devilish version of the Goddess of Love rasped in a lower voice. "She's a goodie goodie! She never has any fun! You know it's better to be naughty!"

Aphrodite considered both sides of her Self's word, then sighed. "Whatever. I'm bored. This might be a happenin' conversation. Buzz off, both of you!"

They were suddenly gone, and the Goddess smiled, turning herself into a flower so that she could eavesdrop out in the open.

"You had better not screw this up!" a decidedly nasty yet female voice sounded as two Beings came into view. It was Discord. Small of stature, big of mouth and *all* attitude, the Demi Goddess of Mayhem and...well...discord was talking to a big blonde guy wearing a horned hat. Aphrodite just *knew* she had seen that outfit before!

"How was I supposed to know that Xena her friends would show up at Valhalla?" the man said. "Now she has Odin's ear, and they're working together. We should pull out of this and return the horses. A joke is one thing, but this could cause war among our two worlds."

"CHICKEN!" Discord screamed at Loki. "Look, Buster...I didn't plan this whole thing just so you could turn tail and run at the first sign of the Warrior Princess. I'll take care of her, don't you worry! Now get back there before they know you're gone."

Loki disappeared and Discord rolled her dark eyes. "Norsemen! Great in the sack but useless for my daring plans."

Aphrodite was so livid she feared her petals may melt. That...that BITCH! She thought to herself. She and Loki were behind this whole thing! Loki was supplying the horses so that Discord could give them to certain mortals who would raise havoc in Discord's name. Now THAT was low, even for Discord!

"Those poor horsies." 'Dite sniffed to herself, "Taken from their home so that skank can have a good time. Wait...that didn't come out right. Oh well, never mind...I've got to tell Xena and the others!"

Discord caught a bit of movement out of the corner of her eye, but when she looked there was nothing there. "Hey, wasn't there a flower there before?" she mused out loud, then thought better. "Nah. Couldn't be." And then she, too, was gone.

Chapter 21 By Fiona

Meanwhile, back at Valhalla, a frantically gesticulating blond, badly disguised as a Valkyrie, tried to get Xena's attention while hiding behind a pillar. The disguise might have worked except for it being bright pink with ruffles. Not normally the Valkyries style, to put it mildly!

Xena excused herself and made an excuse as to why she had to leave. She casually wandered over to the pillar and slipped behind it, only to be confronted with the shocking pink vision jumping up and down in excitement. Quickly she clamped her hand over the goddess' mouth and laid a heavy hand on the jiggling gauzy bedecked shoulder.

"Um, 'Dite? You're not exactly making it easy to be discrete. Want to head somewhere else to talk?"

Over Xena's hand the goddess nodded an affirmative and they moved off quietly to a private nook.

"XENA! Just WAIT until I tell you the poop! I know who's behind all this! Think seriously bad nasty teased black hair with MONDO hairspray and icky tiny teeth. She's knockin' boots with that Loki dude! What are you going to do to her, hunh? Can I help, hunh? Can I? Can I? She is, like, SUCH a bitch!!! Those poor horsies!!!", wailed the bodacious goddess, chin all a-tremble.

"Why am I not surprised? Thank you for your help and I'll let you know when I need your help with her, but for now you better get out of here. I'm not sure how the Norse folk will feel about an Olympian in Valhalla.", growled Xena, eyes narrowing in thought.

"You got it Warrior Babe! Later!"

With that, 'Dite was gone in her customary wealth of sparkles.

Chapter 22 By Xena

Xena remained where she stood for a few minutes, digesting the information that the Goddess had given her. All the pieces were fitting into place...Loki wanting a good joke, Discord wanting to stick it to he higher ups. It probably didn't take much to bribe the rogue Valkyries into helping, either.

Now that she knew what was going on, she had to put together a plan good enough to work, and yet not tip off that she knew everything before she could put that plan into motion. An enraged Loki would not be a good Being to go up against. He had no rules when he battled, unlike the other Norse Gods. Compared to Odin, Loki was a complete loose crossbow.

She returned to the banquet and made an excuse about being full and sleepy and needing to rest for awhile. She told Odin she would speak with him later, and whispered into Gabrielle's ear that she would meet up with her soon.

Then Xena went to the one place she could always think and regroup...the stable.

Odin's Stables were the same as just about any other stable in any other world. It was one reason why the Warrior always found solace in a barn; no matter where she was, the surroundings were familiar to her.

She went to Warhammer's stall and entered, smiling as the mare nickered a low greeting and blew softly into her offered hand.

"No treats for you, I'm afraid." Xena said as she put a stray lock of mane back into place. "I just need to think is all, and maybe bounce an idea or two off of you. Is that all right?"

The mare tossed her head as if agreeing with Xena, and that made the warrior chuckle out loud. "You always did have a sense of humor. I've missed you. Probably I missed you more than any other part about this place. We'll get your friends back and fix this mess, Warhammer. I promise."

Silence followed for a good long while as Xena thought as she groomed the flying horse. Then a feral grin began to spread over the warrior's features and she nodded to herself. "That may work." she said out loud. "That may work just fine."

Moments later the doors to the Great Hall burst open and Xena strode through them. The entire throng of people looked up and became silent as Xena looked straight into Odin's eyes and asked, "Where does the Grindle hang out these days, Odin? I need to get that ring back and I'll need her help while I'm at it."

Chapter 23 By Xena

You could have heard a pin drop in the filled to capacity dining hall. Xena stood still and silent, awaiting Odin's response. Her statement upon her entrance had done it's job, and shocked Valhalla to it's very core.

After what seemed like an eternity, Odin cleared his throat and rose to his feet. "You of all people seek the Grindle? What makes you think she will help you and not just rip you to shreds like she does any other human she finds in her forest?"

"Because I want to help her. I want to make up for what I did, and in order for my plan to work she has to let me have the Ring back."

At this Odin threw his head back and laughed out loud. "The Ring? You want to get the Ring? She'll *never* give it up to you, not as long as you draw breath!"

"If it comes to that." Xena said darkly. "So be it. But I *will* fix what I did, and I have to find her first so I can reason with her. So where is she, Odin?"

The King of the Norse Gods drew a deep breath, then shrugged. "It's your death, Xena. She's in the Dark Forest where you trapped her. She still wears the Ring only now she's unreachable...she has no love in her at all. So your quest is doomed from the start. But as they say it's your funeral."

As if that was a signal to the others, the atmosphere returned to the normal rowdy one of a Norse dining hall. Xena once again turned to leave, this time followed by all of her friends.

Gabrielle caught up with her just outside and grabbed her arm. "All right, no more being cryptic." she demanded, noting that her lifemate would not meet her gaze. "Who is this Grindle? What exactly did you do to these People? And what's with that Ring you talked about?"

"What she said." Kha calmly added.

Xena nodded, and gestured for them to follow her. The group did just that, and before long found themselves in a beautiful garden. It was obviously made for reflection and was filled with beautiful plants, trees, flowers and statuary. Xena took a seat upon a marble bench and the others followed suit in nearby chairs and benches.

The person Xena first made eye contact with was Mateksi. "You have to understand something about me." she began to explain. "I wasn't always the person you see before you now. In my youth I was...." she paused, trying to find a powerful enough statement to make it clear to the newcomer from another world. "...I was evil incarnate."

Mateksi shook her head. "No, you couldn't have been! You have helped me and Kicking Horse...you have been a good friend!"

"Like I said, I was different back then." Xena continued. "I was full of bloodlust, and the want of power at all costs. All I thought about was victory in battle, and getting more spoils for myself. Becoming the best at everything, especially the best fighter in the world. I wanted to rule the world in fact, Mateksi...and I was well on my way to achieving that by the time I met up with Odin and he in turn made me a Valkyrie."

The Shamaness turned silent, wondering about the truth of Xena's words. It was a lot to swallow. If it was true, could the Warrior Princess ever be trusted? Had she truly changed? Mateksi shut her eyes and reached out with her senses, briefly accessing the Spirit World, searching Xena's aura. There it was...deep within her, burning brightly was a crimson light. The aura of bloodlust, and power and hate and anger. But there...just there coating it and keeping it at bay, was a bright blue light. Healing. And above it, the pink glow of True Love. Mateksi knew who had put the Love in Xena's soul. Gabrielle.

The Shamaness opened her eyes and smiled. "It is over." she told her friend. "Now you are who you are. I see this in your Soul. Tell us what you did, and we will not hold it against you."

"No, we won't." agreed the others. Gabrielle alone remained silent. Not because she doubted Xena's resolve, but because she knew the story about to be told was beyond the warlord antics she had all ready been told by her lifemate. Just how bad had Xena really been? She was afraid to really know.

Xena noticed the Bard's silence, and it sliced her to her very core. Still, the tale had to be told, and so she began it.

"I wanted to be a Valkyrie for one reason and one reason only...so that I could get Odin to tell me the secret of the Runes and then the location of the Rheingold. He fell for my trickery, and my vows of love to him. I wound him around my finger like a piece of rope, and he told me and taught me what I wanted to know. Next I went after the Rheingold, betraying the Rheinmaidens who guarded it. Taking their reason for Being, stealing it and swimming way with their shattered trust and cries of protestations ringing in my ears. Not that I heard it." she added with a grunt of disgust. "I was too busy being pleased with myself for what I had done. With the Rheingold I made a Ring. That's the Ring I was talking about just now with Odin...a powerful Ring that allows the one who wears it absolute power with one catch; nobody can use it unless they have forsaken love in all of it's forms. If they do put it on and they have *not* forsaken Love, the Ring works for a little while, and then takes what that person values most from them. I didn't think I had any problems..I had forsaken Love at that point in my life, and when I wore the Ring I wasn't in any danger.

Grinhilda was the Leader of the Valkyries and Odin's lover. She got wind of what I was doing and came after me, determined to stop me. We fought, and although I eventually won, trapping her in a remote part of the Dark Forest, she took the ring from me and has it in her possession still."

Kha caught the warrior's attention and then asked, "So she forsake all love then?"

Xena shook her head. "No, she hadn't. But she was willing to risk everything to defeat me. So she put the ring on, and the Curse worked. She lost what she held most dear...her humanity. Now she's a creature known as the Grindle. Indestructible, unbeatable, and I'm sure bent on revenge against me."

"So what's the plan?" Mateksi asked, fascinated by the tale.

"Somehow we have to find the Grindle and convince her to forgive me. We have to find a spark left in her that still is capable of loving something...anything...so that we can reverse the Curse."

"How will that help get the horses back?" Gabrielle asked.

"With Grinhilda brought back to herself and the Curse broken, I can return the Ring to the Rheinmaidens and undo what I did all those years ago. That will earn the complete trust of the Norse Gods and People, and we'll have the entire Pantheon behind us when we go up against Discord and Loki. And believe me, we're going to need all of their help to defeat those two. Especially Loki. He's not to be trusted at any cost."

Xena turned to Gabrielle, and managed to meet her gaze at last. "That's the whole story, Gabrielle. I understand if you feel differently about me now. I...I deserve it."

To Xena's amazement, the Bard simply smiled her gentle smile and kissed the warrior's cheek, then her lips, than the tip of her nose. "I love you, Xena." she said. "Thank you for telling us the truth. I knew it was bad, and not knowing scared me, but now that I do know we can work through this together. All right?"

Xena allowed a relieved grin to show itself and then she embraced Gabrielle in a heartfelt hug and kissed the top of her head. "I think you know how I feel about you, Bard O Mine."

Mateksi smiled to herself as well as her inner eye saw the pink glow of true love in Xena's Soul growing exponentially.

Chapter 24 By Xena

Xena and her friends left Valhalla and went back down to the earthly plane. The Norse People were a friendly yet passionate lot and the Warriors must have gotten in five or so arguments and/or fist fights before Gabrielle and Mateksi had bartered for the traveling supplies they'd need as they searched for the Grindle. The Shamaness and the Bard were becoming close friends, happy to have the other to relate to among the Warriors.

"Why can't they just get along?" Gabrielle shook her head with a hint of a smile as once again Kha sent some smart mouthed Norse guy through a wall.

Mateksi shrugged. "It is in their blood. Kicking Horse is the same way. I shudder to think what trouble she is getting into while I'm not there to temper her."

"I wouldn't worry too much." Gabrielle answered, thanking the store clerk who handed her a bundle of supplies. "Don't forget that Cyrene is there, and she'll keep your friend in line."

The Shamaness nodded. "Still...I hope we may return soon."

"Xena seems to have a pretty good plan. I hope it goes the way she wants to, so we can get back home. I miss it, too."

Mateksi touched her friend's arm in deep meaning. "You are all ready Home, Gabrielle." her eyes pointed to Xena, who was happily flinging a Norse Warrior over her shoulder to the ground after he had grabbed her behind. "She is your Home."

The Bard agreed. "You have a very good point. Xena is my Home, but I still miss Cyrene's cooking!" After the two had laughed at the joke, Gabrielle raised her voice to be heard above the din. "We're going!"

"Gotcha!" Kha answered her. "Hey Xena...time to go!"

"I hear ya." with a last heave the Warrior Princess tossed one last randy Norse through a nearby window and then tossed some coins on the counter. "Sorry for the mess. You'd better look into getting a classier type of clientele here."

With a chuckle she headed out into the sunshine to join her friends and begin one of the last legs of their journey...

Chapter 25 By Kha

Massaging her sore hand after knocking the huge Norseman through the wall, Kha was smiling a contented smile. She had talked a last time to Freya, and pulled on her white bearskin cloak, a present from Odin, as she waved bye to the patrons who cheerfully waved them on.

She sighed "I needed that workout Xena. I didn't know these people were such party animals."

Xena chuckled "Oh this was quiet, for them. So, we go south from here I gather, and we will find those horses."

Kha nodded "I have to tell you, riding a flying horse was intriguing, but poor Night Wind is still traumatized over it..." She laughed as she fondly ran a hand down her stallion's long face "I also have to tell you all one fact, why Frey a and I talked as long as we did."

She prepared to mount her horse but paused to look at her traveling companions "It would seem Winter Solstice paid off for me. According to Freya in next summer, I will give birth again. She assures me this one will be female, a single birth and she will be legendary."

She smiled a tiny bit "So much for the theory that nursing your children holds a pregnancy at bay."

She heaved a contented sounding sigh though, and swung up still graceful "I cant wait to see Sennedjem's face when I tell him. He is going to be so conceited about it. The only blessing it is to me, is it will be a daughter, and a single birth not twins again!"

Chapter 26 By Xena

Xena halted and beamed at her friend. "That's wonderful news, Kha! I'm so very happy for you and Sennedjem! And yes, the expression on his face will be priceless. If it wasn't such a private moment, I'd ask to be there." she chuckled.

Kha smiled back. "I may just tell him in the common room surrounded by everyone. That way all can know at one time."

"Ever the practical one." Xena laughed.

"So, how do you like this weather?" Mateksi entered the conversation, looking up at the sky. Large heavy flakes of snow were falling from the heavens, and the ground which had been clearing of the white stuff was quickly becoming covered once more.

"The Norselands are an unpredictable place." Gabrielle chimed in. "The bards say that if you don't like the weather to wait a candlemark and it will change." The group laughed at this comment, and then Gabrielle continued, "It does seem a bit strange, though. I mean, yesterday it was so warm and Spring like that we went without cloaks. Now this..."

"It's normal for this area, so don't worry. Nothing Deific about it." Xena reassured them all. "It's not so cold that it will impede our search for the Grindle, and it's warm enough so that all of this should be melted within a day or so. It's Spring, after all."

The group walked on in silence, enjoying each other's company and yet a bit trepidatious about what they would come up against soon. Finally Gabrielle could contain her curiosity no longer and asked, "How much farther, Xena?"

The Warrior smiled, and pointed up ahead. "Not much farther. If I remember correctly just over that rise lies the Gate."

Sure enough, when they climbed the rise and looked down into a knell there was a huge iron fence and gate. The fence stretched as far and wide as the eyes could see and it was clear that the only way in or out was through the locked gate. They approached it, and not a one was cavalier about the situation.

"This is serious stuff." Kha said, fingering the heavy lock. "I wouldn't even begin to know how to get in here, nor would I even want to on a normal day."

"Since when do we have normal days?" Gabrielle quipped, desperate for some humor, no matter how weak.

Xena took a deep breath and fought back the bad memories flooding her head. Then she motioned for them to step back and let her chakram fly.

The circular weapon forged in Hephaestus' fire was the only thing capable of breaking metal forged by the Gods. It sliced neatly through the raven shaped lock and it fell to the earth with a 'thud'.

Suddenly the earth shook with the footsteps of a giant creature, and an inhuman roaring threatened to deafen them all. From the heavy tree cover stepped The Grindle, and once again she roared her challenge.

Xena stepped forward as every warrior present drew their weapons. She didn't draw hers, but showed that her hands were empty. "Grinhilde." she said, her voice trembling with both hope and fear. "It's me. Xena."

There was a pause, then another cry from the monster filled the air and more footsteps sounded.

"By the Gods." whispered Gabrielle as she tried to keep from just running away. "There are two of them!"

Chapter 27 By Xena

"I hadn't figured on that." Xena admitted, taking in the sight of mother and offspring.

"What are their vulnerable points?" Kha asked, brandishing her scimitar.

"That's the trouble...they don't have any." Xena answered. "Put your weapon away. All of you! Put your weapons down. This is a battle that has to be fought with words, not steel."

The Grindle regarded the humans before her and rumbled low. How stupid did Xena think she was? It was some sort of trick...yes, some sort of trick. It had to be. She sniffed the air and searched the horizon, looking for reinforcements or an attack from the trees. Her senses told her nothing, but she refused to accept that.

With a thunderous roar she charged Xena, swooping her up in a deadly hug, intent on squeezing the life out of her. Xena planted her feet against the massive chest and pushed outward, neatly flipping up and out of her hands, landing on her feet and crouched, ready to spring away.

Kha fingered the flint inside her pocket. Fire may be the key here. If steel wouldn't work, they had to have a back up weapon. She held the flint in her hand, rubbing it as if for luck as she and the others watched the deadly dance between Warrior Princess and Creature.

Aphrodite sat on a stump outside of Cyrene's, moving the dirt around with the toe of her pink slipper. "I'm bored!" she exclaimed. "It's no fun without Xena and her pesky posse around here to liven things up."

"You're not the only one." Ephiny said, and joined the Goddess of Love on the wooden seat. "I wish I could go help her. If only she'd waited until we could all go together! Now some of us are stuck here, and...well..." the Amazon Warrior threw a rock in frustration. "I just wish I could help."

Aphrodite brightened immediately. "That's it! I'll send you to help her out! Do you want your own flying horsie?"

Ephiny laughed, "No, that won't be necessary. But I'd love it if you could get me to where the action is."

"Oh! Oh! Me, too! Don't forget me! No doubt they'll need a warrior of my exceptional skill." Joxer came running up, his face flushed and his feet a bit behind his brain...he tripped over a root and fell flat on his face at the Goddess' feet.

"Just the way I like my men." Aphrodite grinned. "Prone. Okie dokie, you mortal types,hang on! I wish I could come with you, but for some silly reason the Norse Gods don't let the Olympians play on their playground. But I can sure get you guys there! Ready?"

The pair nodded, standing up and clutching their weapons.

"Now remember, you're going to show up exactly where Xena and the others are, so be ready for anything".

"Right! Anything...I've got nerves of steel, so don't worry about me." Joxer said with confidence. Ephiny took a deep breath and said,

"I understand."

The Goddess of Love thought for a moment and then chanted, "Flying bird and buzzing bee, listen up to little me...send these people through sight and sound to where Xena and the others will surely be found." she shrugged, "Well it ain't Plato but it'll have to do". Then with a wave of her hand a shower of pink sparkles and whirl of wind, Ephiny and Joxer were transported to the Norselands.

Chapter 28 By Ephiny

As the pink cloud of sparkles cleared the air, Ephiny and Joxer found themselves a few feet behind Xena and company. Charging at Xena was an enormous tree-beast. Ephiny stood with her mouth agape... as was Joxer... and watched as Xena flipped off of the center of the tree and out of the way.

Ephiny drew her sword and prepared for what looked to be a battle. Joxer pulled out his tiny dagger and held it in shaking hands. Ephiny nodded toward Gabrielle and said, "Joxer! Go to Gabrielle. Make sure she's out of the way. I'll help Xena." Ephiny started to move in behind Kha as Joxer came to stand beside Gabrielle.

Joxer grinned a moment as he startled the blonde bard. "Hellooo, Gabrielle! If you'll follow me?"

"Joxer! Not now!" She swatted at the Mighty Warrior and then a look of surprise came over her. "Joxer!!! What?? How? Oh never mind..."

Ephiny was almost ready to jump into the fray when she heard Gabrielle call her name. "Don't!" Gabrielle told her. "Not yet. Xena said this is a battle to be won with words. Put your sword away quickly."

Ephiny looked at the petite Queen in disbelief. "You're kidding, right?"

Chapter 29 By Leonie

Mateksi stared at the Giant Living Tree, Xena called Grindle. Her breath came in panting gasps. This was the beast that Xena had imprisoned? This was a foe that Xena could 'take down'? Mateksi was in thrall of the power Xena must hold. Kicking Horse would be mightily impressed.

"Grindle! I have come to appease you." Xena tried vainly to get the attention of the Grindle non violently. It was for no good though. A howl of pure anger and hatred ripped from the Grindle as it once again went for Xena. The sound seemed to reverberate inside Mateksi's skull, down her spine and into the ground. The very Earth below them screamed in torment. Mateksi felt it all around her.

"This place has been poisoned. It is foul with the stench of her hatred."

Gabrielle nodded at the Shamaness, "Yes, she has seethed here for so very long.." Gabrielle back peddled, away from Xena and called to Ephiny. "Don't!" Gabrielle told her. "Not yet. Xena said this is a battle to be won with words. Put your sword away quickly."

Ephiny looked at the petite Queen in disbelief. "You're kidding, right?"

"I'm not! Gabrielle called again. "Put them away."

Ephiny obeyed her Queen immediately and stepped back beside Joxer as though to protect the bumbling Warrior from himself.

"Hey! You're just gonna let Xena talk the thing to death, then?" Joxer asked, watching as Xena once again narrowly escaped the Grindle. Kha was close beside her, the Grindle becoming more and more enraged with each miss.

The second Grindle seemed enthralled by the performance. It stood watching, seeming to take no action. As if waiting for it's "Mother' to guide it.

Mateksi hissed at Gabrielle to get her attention. Pointing with her chin she whispered, "Perhaps the Child is the weakest point. Will she have no 'love' for what she has created?"

Chapter 30 By Xena

"Mateksi, that's brilliant!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "The trick is to get that across to her."

"How about we light the kid up?" Kha said grimly, showing them the flint she carried.

Gabrielle shook her head no. "That would just make her hate us more. Unless.. I've got it!" she pointed to the dry timber behind the Grindle's child. "If you can get behind it and light that part of the woods...well, I'm not sure what to do next, but I'm betting Xena will. Just make sure neither the Grindle nor her child sees you!"

The Egyptian nodded. "It sure beats just standing around." and with that she signaled for Ephiny to follow her as back up and the two women fell back to do their part.

Joxer came up to stand next to Mateksi and Gabrielle. "I'll stay here." he announced, still holding his dagger. "You know...to protect you and stuff."

"Thanks, Joxer." Gabrielle answered him.

Xena had her hands full just staying out of reach of the Grindle. It was becoming painfully obvious to her that the creature had no desire to talk about anything except Xena's funeral. Dodging yet another ground moving blow from the former Valkyrie Xena became aware of a flicker of light behind the Creature and to the left...then the scent of smoke reached her nostrils and she smiled.

Ephiny and Kha had done their thing, and the dry woods behind the Grindle's offspring lit easier than either of them had thought it would. The timber sprang to life with a violent blaze, and the pair made it back to the group just before the others noticed the fire had been started.

The smaller of the two creatures, though, realized he was in trouble as the flames began to go up what passed for his left arm. With a howl of fear and pain he raced to his mother, who turned to see what had attacked him. Her beady eyes widened as she saw the fire consuming her only child. Totally forgetting the humans, she looked around in a panic, searching for something to save him.

Mateksi was the one who found the brook. Perhaps the Water Sprites called to her as a Shamaness, perhaps she just had a keen sense for finding water...but whatever the reason, she pointed it out to the others and they all grabbed whatever they could and began to gather the life saving liquid. One after the other they threw what they could on the burning Creature and Xena tried to get it through his head what he must do.

"Roll!" she commanded. "Don't run from it, it will only spread! Lay down and roll!"

Through the haze of parental panic the Grindle heard Xena's words and roared something to her son, who promptly did as he was told. The water, coupled with the rolling in the snow put the fire out and as the stand of wood that they had set ablaze was isolated from the main woodlands, it quickly began to burn itself out.

The Grindle went to her child and checked him all over, sniffing where the fire had burned him and helping him to stand. Then she turned her attention back on Xena.

"Are you ready to talk now?" the Warrior asked. "I'm unarmed, Grinhilda....and we just helped save your son. Surely that's worth listening to me before you kill me."

The Grindle struggled with this for a moment, hate juggling with the relief she felt that her son would live. Then she nodded and rumbled low, a sound much different than the ones they had heard before. Not quite friendly, yet not threatening either.

"Come on." Gabrielle told the others. "Xena needs to to do this alone." she led them away from the Creatures and her lifemate. Not really knowing what to say or how to feel they gathered within earshot yet out of sight of what was going on. Time would tell now whether Xena was successful and whether or not Grinhilda held any love in her heart at all anymore.

"Gabrielle." the bard felt somebody shaking her shoulder. She must have dozed off! Her eyes flew opened to see Joxer standing over her. He pointed to the glen and said, "Look!"

A glowing radiance was emanating from where the others were. It filled the sky and surrounding areas, and Kha once again reached for her scimitar. "Should we go in?" she asked. "Xena could be in trouble!"

"No, I don't think so." Gabrielle told her friend as she stood up. "I'd sense it if she were, and all I can sense is...." she broke off in mid sentence as three people walked out of the woods. Xena, Grindhilda in her human form and a young teenage boy with blond hair and fair skin.

"....love." Gabrielle finished. "All I can sense is Love. Xena did it!"

Chapter 31 By Kha

Smiling, Kha nodded "He’s a very handsome boy, Grinhilda's son." She moved forward cautiously with Gabrielle and Ephiny and the rest. She carefully watched the body language of the woman before them for signs of danger.

She had gathered the polar bear cloak about her to shut out the chill. They were headed back to where the horses were, when she felt the first bout of nausea. She motioned for them to go on ahead of her, but they remained. Holding her long heavy hair out of the way while her stomach convulsed, Mateksi whispered little words only half heard by Kha who pushed herself back to her feet, embarrassed as hell.

Offering her a water bottle, Gabrielle watched with concern as Kha began to regain her natural dusky skin color "You OK now?"

Kha half smiled "Yes. I rarely had sickness with the twins, but it appears this one will be different."

She reached for Night Wing's reins and swung herself into the saddle. Settling comfortably, she looked at the surrounding area her eyes looking tired. She lightly tapped her stallion's flanks urging him to follow Xena.

They seemed to take no time at all to come in sight of Asgard's great feasting hall. Kha had scarcely noticed the scenery, she concentrated on staying in the saddle. Her face showed strain, as she dismounted and she leaned on her horse. Her face was buried in his long mane as she struggled to get a grip over the nausea. She cursed unaware of the others watching and listening to her "Sennedjem, I hope you enjoy being a eunuch…cause when I get home you are gonna hurt."

Chapter 32 By Xena

Xena helped Gabrielle slide to the ground, then dismounted from Warhammer's back. She patted the animal fondly, then handed her reins to Joxer.

"I wish those things came shorter and not so fat." he complained, walking a bit bowlegged. Horses were never something he enjoyed, but there was no other way to get to Valhalla for mortals other than death...given the choice between death and flying horses, he chose the latter. He had ridden with Kha, and Ephiny had shared Mateksi's mount.

The Amazon knew how to ride very well, and would have ridden her own horse had one been there for her to use. She smiled at Joxer and then gave a sympathetic look Kha's way. "Will you be all right?" she asked.

"That remains to be seen. Why does this ground not stay still?"

Xena smiled knowingly and exchanged looks with Gabrielle. "Should I?" she asked.

"Xena, I'm not sure that's such a good idea. You know the side effect that has!"

"Yeah, but she's pretty ill. This could help her a lot. Remember how good you felt when I showed it to you?"

"Hey, none of that kinky talk!" Joxer said, plugging his ears with his fingers. The women laughed.

"Joxer, why don't you and the others see to the horses? I want to have a talk with Kha."

Their friend shrugged. "Sure. Come on, horsie..." keeping well out of the range of the mare's heels or teeth he went into the barns with Ephiny, Mateksi and Gabrielle.

With no horse to lean on, Kha took the obvious route and leaned on Xena. "Yup...you've got it bad." the Warrior commented. "Come on, let's have a seat and I'll show you something."

Kha paused a moment, thinking she may have another bout of illness, but when the wave of nausea passed she took a seat next to Xena.

The Warrior Princess picked up Kha's hand and turned it palm up, pointing to her wrist. "See that bump right there?"

The Egyptian nodded. "Yes."

"Whenever you feel another bout of illness coming on, do this..." she jabbed at the pressure point and then ducked a powerful swipe of Kha's arm as she reacted to the momentary sharp pain.

"OW! Why did you...hey, my stomach feels better. The ground doesn't seem to be moving anymore...I'm cured!"

"Well, not really. But the nerves are blocked off. That will wear off in time, so you'll need to learn to do that yourself. Think you can do it?"

"Sure!" Kha said gratefully. "Thanks, Xena! I never knew that existed!"

Xena took a deep breath. "Now listen to me, Kha. There's a drawback to this. Everything will sound good to eat...even things that aren't good for you. Don't just put things into your mouth because they sound good to you, all right? You may pay a heavy price later. Ask Gabrielle about our trip with Cecrops if you don't believe me. I showed her that pressure point, and she spent the entire voyage eating raw squid. When we finally got to dry land, she uh...well, she had a bad time of it for a bit. Just take it easy on the cravings, promise?"

So excited to be feeling well again, the Egyptian Warrior nodded. "Sure. Sure, Xena..whatever you say."

As Kha went off to check on her horse, Xena shook her head as she followed. She hoped her friend would listen to her, but at least she wasn't vomiting every ten minutes.

Chapter 33 By Xena

"I can't BELIEVE this!" Discord screeched as she looked at the scrying mirror. It had just showed her the past events on the Norse Lands and she was not a happy camper. She turned to the well muscled boy toy standing behind her and smacked him silly.

"Thank you, My Goddess...may I have another?" he asked.

"Oh shut up!" she seethed. "I'm not playing now, you idiot! I'm *really* steamed! NOW what I am I gonna do? I was counting on the Grindle to tear Xena and her buddies limb from limb and now...now....she's HUMAN again! AARRRGGGGH!" Discord picked up a vase and threw it against the opposite wall. "Now Xena will probably give the Rehingold back to those wimpy Rheinmaidens and all of Valhalla will ride over here and break up my good deal I've got going with Loki and those horses!"

There was a flash of light and the aforementioned Norse God was standing in the room with her. "Did I hear you speak my name?" Loki asked.

"YOU!" Discord threw a vase at him, and the God handily ducked. "YOU were supposed to keep Xena and her friends off guard so that this didn't happen! YOU were supposed to back me up! But what do I get? Bupkus! That's what! Nada! Zip! Zero! Zilch from you! You are less than worthless...you are...are..." she softened, noting the curve of his jawline and the way his armour fit him. "You're too cute to yell at. Damn it." She slumped into a chair.

Loki waved away the leather clad sex slaves and as soon as he and the demi-Goddess were alone together Loki went and sat beside her. "All is not lost." he told her. "I can call up the minions of the dark and when they get here we can give them a reception that they won't soon forget."

This seemed to brighten Discord's mood. "Yeah? Well if you can do that, I can get some...let's see...harpies and a few Dryads and a Hydra or two...maybe even some Cyclops and Mountain Trolls. Yeah! This could work! The mayhem ain't over yet! Let's get planning! This is gonna be some fun fight!"

Chapter 33 By Kha

Looking at the great doors of Valhalla opening before them, Kha eased her tired back a bit. Her eyes lit up, and her smile widened at the smell of the food and ale inside, and though her head already began to ache from the raucous noise and the off key singing, she decided she was ravenously hungry.

Kha heard Gabrielle's voice before her hand settled on Kha's shoulder "Are you ok?" Kha nodded her eyes taking the food in, then she grinned weakly "I was not a few minutes ago, but thanks to Xena's kind instruction I managed to stop it, she showed me."

Gabrielle's look was one of uncertainty as she made a sound then said "Be careful Kha, it has side effects."

As they stepped in with Grinhilda the silence was almost deafening. Unsure of what that meant, Kha suddenly felt something, she felt her appetite returning. She stopped a servant hurrying by with a pile of almost raw meat and chose a huge joint of meat. Ignoring Gabrielle's hand raising to urge her to take something different, so she thought, Kha tucked into the juicy joint. She did not bother asking what it was.

She waved a servant over with a huge tankard which she filled Kha's from. In relief, she sat down and declared "A seat which does not move. I love riding, but..."

She smiled at Mateksi who returned it, and waved her over "Its out of the drafty doorway now. I can't wait to see what plan Xena has devised for getting the horses back, but the one thing you can count on, is it will be lively." She was aware that Mateksi was staring openly at her. She lowered the now bare bone and dropped it on the table "WHAT?"

She chose another equally medium rare piece and leaned back against the wall as she blissfully continued eating. She even ate something the gods chef told her were mountain oysters, and thoroughly enjoyed them. She gave a satisfied belch, and leaned forward to look at Xena who was talking to Zeus. She would give anything, she thought, to be a fly on the table near them, to listen in.

Chapter 34 By Xena

"I know it's highly unusual for a Greek God to enter Norse Territory." Xena was saying in her most diplomatic (for her) voice, "But this is an emergency. I have evidence that a Greek is working with some Norse Gods in order to cause war between the two Pantheons. What better way to start such a war than by stealing the prized possessions of one Pantheon's King and to have them found in the possession of another Pantheon's King?"

Zeus stopped glaring at that Barbarian known as Odin and a torch seemed to light up in his head. "Xena, you have proof?"

"Did I stutter?" the Warrior was beginning to lose patience. This was taking *far* longer than she had wanted it to. Just getting the King of the Greek Gods to travel to Valhalla had taken a...well, an Act of a God to do so. She had called Aphrodite, who had begged and pleaded with her Daddy to come hear what Odin and Xena had to say. That was another one the Warrior Princess owed the Goddess of Love.

'Dite was still there, hanging on her father's arm and trying to keep him calm. The Greek God's legendary temper was hopefully kept in check by one of his favorite daughters' presence. "Daddy," she said smiling her most sparkling smile, "Xena told you that I told her that..." her eyes became vacant. "What was I saying?"

"Discord." prompted Xena.

"Yeah yeah, right. That hagster Discord! When I get my hands on her I'll..."

"Aphrodite," interrupted Zeus, "What about Discord?"

"OH! She's the one who did this, Daddy! She and some yucky straggly looking Norse dude...they stole the flying horses and wanted to pin the theft onto you. I heard them talking about it."

Odin put his hand to his chin and stroked his beard in thought. "There is only one in my Pantheon who is bold enough to try to pull such a trick." he said almost sadly. "But I never thought he would go this far. Loki must be stopped."

Xena sighed, a heavy burden lifted from her shoulders. Evidently the return of Grinhilda and her son had turned a lot of heads in the Norse Community. Suddenly those who had lived for years despising her were once again trusting her. It was definitely a step in the right direction.

"And I'll deal with Discord." Zeus promised. "She, too, has gone too far this time."

"Loki and Discord are going about raising an army to really start a ruckus." Xena told them. "And we all know that this means there will be a battle once we get back to Greece. Odin," she looked directly at the Norse God, "Can we count on you and your Forces to help in this battle?"

"Miss out on a fight?" boomed the voice of the Warrior God "Surely you haven't been away from Valhalla for *that* long, Xena!" he laughed and turned to get everyone's attention. "Let the word go out this moment! Every supernatural being that owes their allegiance to me, Odin, should meet at this time tomorrow in this Great Hall and we will go to Greece. With the help of our allies the Olympians we will TAKE BACK WHAT IS OURS!" his last words were drowned out by loud cheering and banging of sword upon shield and weapons against heavy wooden tables.

Xena was satisfied. As last they were getting down to business...

Chapter 35 By Leonie

While Xena leaned back in her chair beside the Norse God nodding her head in satisfaction. Mateksi's eye's darted all over. The room was roaring with the blood lust of impending battle. Her body vibrated with the hammering of sword hilts upon the tables. She took a step back from the table and plastered her back to the cool stone wall behind her. Gabrielle was beside her in a flash, smoothly moving her lithe body away from the commotion surrounding the tables.

"You all right?"

The Lakota shook her thick black tresses back and forth. "No, these.. people.. no they are not people. These Gods have no care for the mortal lives they will slay in this coming battle? Does human life mean so little in Greece that it is tossed away upon a trickster's whim?"

Gabrielle's heart went out to the woman. Out of her own element so soon and then brought to Valhalla, the very den of drunkenness and overindulgence. "Mateksi, you have to understand the ways of these Gods. In many ways, we mortals are but pawns to them. They think to 'rule' over us, much like chess pieces."

Mateksi opened her mouth to respond but Gabrielle was not yet finished.

"But. every once in a while they come across a few mortals." she paused and gazed at Xena, Kha and the rest of the 'group' in turn. "And they realize we are not so easily turned the way they wish. We have perhaps more spirit and alot more intelligence then others."

Mateksi smiled briefly at the Bard, nodding in agreement. "Xena's plan is good and I will help any way I can. But I wait with much anticipation to return to Cyrene's."

"As do I, as do I." Gabrielle's eye's glazed over suddenly. "Oh no, look what she's eating now!" she blurted and bustled over to Kha who was about to dig into a writhing worm like dish of live... bait.

Chapter 36 By Ephiny

Ephiny was standing next to Kha and had been oblivious to the newly expectant mother. The Amazon had found herself caught up in the battle lust that had engulfed the gods. "Yeah!!" She screamed along with them. Ephiny had a -strong- dislike for Discord. Call it a personality conflict.

Kha's fingers were wrapped around the strange, wriggling delicacy. The full hand was about to ascend to her mouth when Ephiny slapped the said hand. Ephiny looked hard at the Egyptian, "You aren't going to eat that, are you?"

Kha smiled and answered, "Yes. It's on the table. It's food. I'm hungry and it looks good."

Ephiny began to attempt to pry the gross meal from Kha's fingers. "It's for fish. Don't!"

Kha began to feel testy. "Ephiny. I think it will help my cravings. Let go!"


"Yes. Now."


The two looked like they were arm wrestling, with Ephiny taking great pains not to hurt Kha. The gods were roaring around them in their overexuberant whoops and plans for Discord and Loki. Mateksi and Gabrielle began to giggle at Ephiny's almost futile attempt at wresting away Kha's food.

"Kha. You really shouldn't. Please!"

"Fine." Kha handed over the handful to Ephiny, but grabbed another, unseen, and held it behind her back. "You're right. I'll regret it later."

Ephiny turned her attention back to the round table discussion of Discord, satisfied that Kha wasn't going to eat the disgusting bowl of... whatever it was.

Chapter 37 By Kha

Kha looked at it her taste buds watering, then looked up startled when a slim powerful hand took the dish from her. Her eyes flashed for a second then she sheepishly smiled at Gabrielle who tactfully gave the bowl back to a hovering servant.

Gabrielle made a slight face and sat down by Kha as if to watch over her. She smiled a tiny bit "I will be glad when you are past this phase of your pregnancy, Kha, because that was just plain..."

Kha sheepishly grinned "I know, Xena and you were quite right to warn me. I was oddly...compelled to eat the worms." She laughed "It really did look good though."

She stopped talking at Odin's announcement and nodded with satisfaction "Good, now we can get back to a warmer climate, and get this business of horse thievery concluded. I feel sorry for the Valkyries having no mounts."

She waved a servant away who carried a brimming cup of mead and sighed "What I want is some nice mulled port but that's not good for me now." She looked at the group she had arrived with coming to their feet and moving towards Xena who had beckoned for them.

She gratefully acknowledged Gabrielle's assistance to stand, and followed the bard to her circle of friends. She nodded at Mateksi who returned it, then moved over to her "I have some herbs that could help with the nausea which wouldn't cause side effects such as an uncontrollable and very bizarre appetite."

Kha grinned "When we get back I will take advantage of your offer."

Kha moved next to Xena who had turned to the group again "Is the word given to ride? And I hope the word given is South! " She pulled her white fur closer about herself as a stray draft from the opening doors blew over them. She took her gloves from her leather waist pouch and pulled them on against the cold.

Beyond the door, she could hear her own horse's familiar impatient neighing and she could envision him pawing the frozen earth impatiently as he too, wanted to go to a warmer climate.

Chapter 38 By Xena

Xena smiled. "South it is. Now that we have the Norse Pantheon behind us, we can go find Discord and Loki and get this settled once and for all. Let's head home, shall we?" The group cheered. Valhalla was nice to visit, but there's no place like home.

Discord gazed into the scrying pool and then suddenly splashed the vision clear, erasing it. "They're coming back with HELP? LOKI!" she bellowed.

The Norse God appeared, but he was not in a good mood. "I am not a dog." he growled. "Do not think I am a pet, or I will tear your throat out and feed it to my own dogs."

"My my..testy today, aren't we?" Discord returned, not the least bit concerned. "Maybe your attitude will improve once you see where we're going today."

That piqued Loki's interest. "Going? Where are we going?"

"Follow me.." Discord prompted and vanished. Loki immediately followed, and when they materialized it was a dark, foreboding place.

"Where is this?" he asked, feeling as if he should whisper lest some monster find him.

"This," Discord gestured around her, "is Tartarus. Home of the worst of the worst."

"Why are we here?" Loki clutched his weapon tightly. God or no God, this was a place to be feared.

"Because this is where we're going to recruit our army, that's why." Discord told him, and off she strode purposefully.

A flash of blue-black smoke flared up directly in front of her, and Hades appeared. "What do you want, Discord?" he asked. "I don't recall inviting you here."

"That's because you didn't." Discord tried to give her most winning smile, but it fell short.

The God of the Underworld was not impressed. "Answer my question."

"We just want to borrow some thugs is all." she said, shrugging. "No big deal. I'll bring them back to you as dead as they ever were."

"If you think I'm going up against Zeus and the entire Norse Pantheon, you have another thing coming, Discord. " Hades scolded the demi-Goddess. He was so intent on getting Discord to leave that he never noticed Loki creeping up behind him until it was too late. With a blow from the handle of his weapon, Loki took the consciousness from Hades.

"Well, we can't kill each other but we can do some damage." Discord giggled. "He'll have a nice nap and when he wakes up we'll have won the battle and maybe even have taken over Olympus. Who knows? It's proving to be a great day. Now let's go get our army. We have a battle to fight."

Chapter 39 By Leonie

Hades continued to lay unconscious from the blow Loki landed to his head, not knowing that as the moments slid by him that the two ran rampant upon Tartarus, searching out and freeing all the heinous and murderous souls they could find. "How do you know about these people?" Loki inquired.

I know Hades, I know where he keeps the real baddies. Really he's got a soft spot, and it's not just the one you found on his skull either." She explained all atwitter.

Loki smiled smoothly, really he liked this little Godling. Though her flirtation was soon grating on his nerves.

"How do you expect to find them?" Kha called to Xena, the wind flying in her face, stealing the words from her lips.

"I don't have to, for a change." Xena grinned, rather enjoying the flight back to Earth from the heavens of Valhalla. "I'm sure Zeus will have a tail on them. He is the all mighty after all."

Gabrielle grinned from behind Xena. "Think Odin will have as good a sighting on Loki?" Xena's only answer was her own laughter into the wind.

Mateksi could only hang on for dear life as Wet Ears sailed down through the clouds. Though her ears caught plenty of the conversation. Her mind was on how she could help to defeat the two errant Gods and what knowledge she knew from her own training that would work here as well. Luckily nothing she had tried so far had failed.

"There, aren't they a lovely bunch." Discord slapped her hands together, quite pleased with herself.

Before her stood row upon row of dirty, dangerous eyes peering back at her through the filth they wore as armor. Their crimes stood out on their very auras.

Loki's eye's sparkled with devilish glee. "Let them come." He whispered, a hand upon Discord's shoulder.

Chapter 40 By Xena

First things first, Xena thought as they made their first stop at Cyrene's. Her mother ran out to greet them, and Xena swore Cyrene had a moist eye. "We were all so worried!" she told her daughter. "It seems like you've been gone for ages!"

"We'll be gone for a little longer, Mother." Xena told her. "Here, let Gabriele fill you in. I've got to go sharpen my sword and chakram. Is Ares around? I'd like to talk to him." she gave her mother one more hug and kiss and then strode through the tavern doors and called out to the God of War. "Ares? Are you here?"

There was a shimmer of dark blue, and then he was there, twirling his sword in a very happy yet aggressive way. "Finally!" he said. "You and me on the same team again! Feels good, doesn't it?" his eyes sparkled.

"It's a little disconcerting what we're going up against, Ares. How's your brother?"

"Oh, Hades? He's fine...just a little bump on his noggin is all. He'll live...he's immortal after all!" Ares chuckled at his own joke.

"That's good to hear. OK Ares, who did you get?" the Warrior Princess got right to the point.

"Remember that time I offered you any legendary warrior you could name for your own army?"

"I remember. You named all the greats, living and long dead."

"Bingo!" he said, laughing out loud. "I pulled em all, every single one of them. Every Warrior who ever professed an allegiance to me, they're mine. And Athena? Well, she grabbed a lot of others. It's going to be SO much fun!" he twirled his sword in a figure eight pattern to punctuate his words.

"Where are they?"

"With Dad."

"Let's go meet them, then, shall we?"

The pair went back outside, and Xena was pleased to see Kicking Horse had joined them.

"I'm not getting left out of the fun this time." the Lakota Warrior grinned, "Just try to leave me behind!"

"I wouldn't dream of it." Xena returned.

Cyrene and Aphrodite stood on the porch, waving goodbye to the group as they cantered off down the road. "Do you think they'll be all right?" Cyrene asked, wiping away a tear. It was always so hard to see her only daughter riding off into battle. She was only human, after all, and one of these days...she refused to let herself finish the thought.

"Natch, Super Mom!" Aphrodite tried to reassure her friend. "Xena's one of the very best, and you should see the army Athena and Ares put together."

"But Discord is so tricky."

"And NASTY...hey, that's what I'll do! I'll go and watch and if I get a chance I'll do something fun with Miss Bitch of the Known World." Giggling as she waved goodbye, Aphrodite disappeared, leaving Cyrene alone to her thoughts and prayers.

"Be careful." Cyrene whispered into empty space, "My children, all...be careful."

Chapter 41 By Kha

Kha rode just behind Xena, and to the right. The reins were held in a relaxed position allowing her horse, now earthbound once more, to match Argo's mile eating pace. She glanced back, hearing Joxer begin his song and winced.

Sennedjem grinned at that and whispered "My love, I do hate to part so soon, but I think I will teach him the marching song of the brotherhood. Maybe we can get a break that way?"

She nodded approval and watched him turn Night Wing aside and drop back beside the surprised Joxer who was used to traveling alone. He smiled "It is time you learned a new song, an ageless one from my homeland. You know of the brotherhood, would you like to learn their marching song?" He began to coach Joxer patiently.

Kha smiled and looked forward again. Her blood was up and she was ready for this fight. Something inside her told her she would come through fine, and she promised herself she would try, try to make this her last fight till the arrival of her child. And by the gods, she had yet to tell Sennedjem he was to be a father again. Her mind was slipping. She would tell him as soon as the fighting was over because if he learned beforehand he would find a way to tie her up well away from the battle, and every sword would be needed.

She almost jumped as a familiar alto voice asked "A dinar for your thoughts." Kha laughed moving the stallion up by Argo who immediately put him in his place. Both shared a laugh over that and Kha confided "I didn't have time to tell him Xena, and I won't now, not till after this battle. I don't want him worrying about me, I can take care of myself."

Xena nodded "Stick with me, you'll do fine."

Kha grinned "Yeah we make a pretty good team." She watched the horizon for some sign of the enemy "Any idea when we will meet them, or where?"

She looked at Ares who rode that huge black brute, preferring to travel with his "army" and shook her head. She confided one more thing "I am somewhat nervous about meeting Zeus, and Hera. I felt so comfortable with the Viking gods, but the Greek gods are a different breed." She laughed "Some are most wonderful to know, like Dite, and Ares but their king..and Queen."

She stopped speaking tightening her grip on the reins as she strained to hear "Xena, did you Hear anything. Its like we are being.flanked."

They were now traveling a road through the woods, but she did not recall the woods feeling so menacing before.

Chapter 42 By Xena

"Boy, you're getting jumpy in your condition." Ares broke in, sliding down the side of the steep hill on his black stallion. "It's just me and my men. And them..." he pointed to the trees that wee suddenly filled with Ravens. Giant and rather menacing looking Ravens. "That Odin...what a guy!" Ares chuckled. "He can see through those bird's eyes so he knows *everything* and I do mean everything that goes on during the battle. We're going to have a wonderful time!" With that, he urged his mount forward and they galloped off to where the pass opened up and formed a wide and open area. No trees, just tall grasses and very little hiding places.

"Looks like any other field of death I've ever ridden into." Xena muttered under her breath. She held up her hand, signaling the group to halt and then turned in the saddle. "Are you ready to do this?"

The others returned her question with a deafening roar, and Xena felt Gabrielle's arms tighten around her waist. To her she whispered, "Are you sure you won't go with Mateksi and not directly fight?"

"I'm with you." was the Bard's answer, and Xena sighed in resignation.

"All right...let's go then." The group surged forward and galloped into the open field.

On either side of the great expanse was each lethal army. They looked like some sort of bizarre chess board. Light on one side, dark on the other.

"At least we won't have any trouble knowing who is on who's side." Alex commented.

Zeus signaled to Xena to approach, and she did so. "Shall you give the word?" he asked her.

"Me? I'm just along for the ride. You're the King of the Gods."

Zeus laughed, and then became grim. "So be it." He raised his arms, then brought them down to his side. "ATTACK!"

Light and dark ran forward towards the other and clashed in an ear splitting crunch of armor and sword clashing against each other. Xena would think by the sounds of battle that she was in any other epic struggle, but for the bolts of energy whizzing left and right. The Divine among them were using everything at their disposal to make things go in their favor.

On the sidelines, hidden as well as she could be hidden, was Mateksi, doing what she could to her part through elemental magick.

Chapter 43 By Leonie

Mateksi stayed hidden, not only by structure, the trees, but by her own cloaking. A tight pocket of air kept her cloaked from prying eyes, for a time at least.

The roars of fury ripped from the dead souls, given a second chance. The battle was their revenge against everything Tartarus stood for. It mattered not at all to them what they were fighting for, nor that they were merely pawns in the God's battles. The waste saddened Mateksi, even though she could not figure quite if it was waste or not.. These same souls would be condemned straight back to Tartarus again, would they not? Did they feel pain at all? Did the dead weep?

The Shamaness shook her head smartly. The thoughts roiling around would not help her nor her friends in battle, there was a time and a place for battle and a time and place for thinking, as Kicking Horse often reminded her. It was time to see if she could make a difference out in the battlefield.

Scanning as far as the eye could see.. only bodies could be seen, both laying on the ground and those in the furious battle. She could not find her friends by sight, but she was sure they were still in there, for she would know if they had fallen. Mateksi began to wonder if all the Gods were watching and participating in this Unholy War.

Opening her minds eye, the Shamaness put out a plea to her own Gods and those she had found in this world too.

"Above and Below
No Holds Be Barred
Show me All Secrets

Gone and Beyond
Come Into Sight
Uncloud Myne Eyes

From Here To There
Mist Must Part
Expose That Which I Request!"

A mirror like sheen appeared between her spread hands, like a scrying pool. In it stood a small dark woman. Her stance much like that of a rabid animal, her beauty was apparent, but shrouded by hate and pettiness. "And you must be Discord." Mateksi whispered. Behind Discord stood a dark, tall, lean man. His hair long and tied back in a knot, His face handsome, but pinched, as if he was tasting a sour fruit. "The war is not appealing to you, hmm?" The Shamaness chuckled as she thought what to do next.

Chapter 44 By Kha

Kha's glittering scimitar came down in an arc and it bit deep into a dead man. His head rolled off a ways but his body continued to move. She cursed and removed its legs so at least it couldn't continue in the attack. She whirled hearing Sennedjem's battle cry. He, with Joxer in tow, was forcing his way to where Kha was backed up against a large boulder.

He came off his stallion landing by her with a thud. His heavier scimitar soon clashed with the dead warrior's facing them. They worked perfectly in total synchronization. The black leather armor Kha wore was a gift from Ares, and not even the dead used by Discord and Loki in this war could penetrate it. She knew it and used herself more than once to shield her husband.

Ducking one blow coming up in a kneeling position to sweep his opponents legs out from under him, Sennedjem took his head off and kicked it well away from the body. He was now using Kha's method of attack leaving wriggling torsos all around them.

Kha saw one bearing down on Joxer and stepped quickly over using a fallen tree trunk for leverage, she landed in front of him with a sharp pained curse as she blocked the things blow from splitting Joxer. She gave an angry roaring challenge as she spotted some Roman Dead and tore into them, with Sennedjem coming over to back her up. She knew this centurion she faced. He had led the attack on the brotherhood and taken Sennedjem's head once, long ago. She now took the centurion, chopping his legs out from under him leaving him on the ground watching as her backup blade arced down. He knew that blade, Caesar's Ivory Eagle headed Battle weapon. It was the last thing he saw.

Her triumphant scream was met with approval from a female who appeared by her, and said "Well done Egyptian, well done. But you would be wise to keep personal feelings aside from this fight.it is far from over." Athena in her bright shining Helmet and carrying her spear waded into the fray personally, clearing the way for the pair of mortals to get back to their friends and join the defensive circle.

She looked back over her shoulder as a shadowy figure wearing a fully hooded cloak emerged from the woods "Sekhmet." The lion headed goddess nodded "My thanks for that, Athena. She is a favored one of mine and though our pantheon has sworn to keep hands off in this fight, I thought it necessary to ask they be watched over, as Kha is a favored one of mine."

Athena agreed "I like her style myself." Sekhmet vanished in a twinkling of light.

In the circle of defenders, winded for a moment, Kha bent to put her hands on her knees, feeling the nausea rise. She immediately pressed the spot as she had been taught by Xena, and it vanished leaving her able to continue on fighting.

Sennedjem looked at her narrowly while automatically blocking a blow and backhanding an opponent "Kha are you all right?"

Kha grunted "Oh yeah, sure. I am just fine. While we were up north." She blocked yet another blow now using both Caesars Blade and her own scimitar "I am just with child again.talk about bad timing."


Sennedjem felt his head begin to swirl. What had his wife just told him? AGAIN? By all the Gods that ever were...

He stood there dumbfounded until Kha leaped to her feet, shielding him from what was sure to have been a killing blow if she hadn't had on her armor given her by Ares. That shook the tall Egyptian from his trance.

"Why are you fighting, then?" he hollered above the clashing of blades. "You should be back at the Tavern with Cyrene, not in the thick of death."

"I'm not in harm's way because of this armor." she growled. "It is why I wore it."

Sennedjem knew that statement to be very true. Kha usually felt wearing the armor was cheating, making her invincible. She wore it only when she was....pregnant! By the Gods, why hadn't he seen that before? He felt very dense at that moment, but chose to put all fatherly thoughts aside as they once again turned their full attention to the raging battle.

"Gabrielle!" Xena screamed for the third time in a row. The smoke was thick, and the bard was nowhere to be seen. Almost automatically, not really focusing on the fighting, the Warrior let her chakram fly as she took out as many Dark Soldiers as she could, sending them back to Tartarus.

"Gabrielle! Where are you?" Panicked, she felt her usually calm battle self dissipate, and her wilder, more chaotic side coming through. Where WAS she?

"I'm all right!" came a familiar voice through the fog and smoke. "I'm all right, Xena! Don't worry about me, just do what you have to do!"

Xena felt herself relax the tiniest bit. Gabrielle was alive! "Like Tartarus I'm going to not worry about you!" she called back.

Suddenly the battle fog cleared jut a bit, revealing Hades and his chariot. Standing beside him was the Bard, happily smacking those who came too near them with her staff while the God of the Underworld zapped away with his own Godly powers.

"She's fine, Xena." Hades told her. "I will let no harm come to her, and should the unthinkable happen even with my protection, she will be returned to your side. It's my thanks for your help in this Battle."

That satisfied Xena, and she turned into the fray once more.

"That look is so yesterday." a snarling voice confronted Xena. "And that hairstyle...dark is good but you manage to ruin it."

"Discord." Xena absent mindedly twirled her sword. "So nice of you to actually show up. I figured you'd just sit above it all and watch your chess pieces do everything." She noticed Loki standing behind her. "Oh look...your Pawn. Hello." She nodded to the Norse God, who growled deep in his throat. Then he simply attacked, coming right over the top of Discord.

"I am NOT her Pawn!" he yelled.

Barely able to block his blade, Xena grimly smiled at him as he bent her back with his power and weight. "That's not how everyone else sees it."

That was it, he turned his attention right to where Xena wanted it...on Discord. "I've had ENOUGH!" he roared. "I am Loki, the Trickster! Not some Pawn of you, Olympic brat!"

"You're nothing without me!" Discord returned, her eyes flashing. "This whole thing was MY idea...MY brilliance...you're just the muscle, muscle head."

Xena chuckled to herself as the two of them flew at each other. "Just as easy as Pompey and Caesar." she thought to herself. "And just as annoying. Both of them."

Suddenly she became aware of cheering. It started low, then grew in volume and intensity, finally she felt it in her very bones. By Olympic intervention the battle fog disappeared and all could see the Dark Forces fleeing. The Alliance of Olympic and Norse Deities had won! The battle was over!

"Xena! Xena, we won!" Gabrielle laughed as she came running at her lifemate. The Warrior gathered her up into her arms and swung her around, breathing in the scent of her hair, and feeling the clean softness of her skin. She then held her at arm's length and took her all in.

"Are you hurt anywhere?" she asked, genuinely worried.

"No, not at all! I was with Hades, remember?" Gabrielle's eyes were laughing, but she knew Xena was worried for her safety. "And no, Xena..I didn't spill anybody else's blood either. There was one moment when a sword fell at my feet and I picked it up."

Xena felt her mouth go dry. For Gabrielle to lose her blood innocence was something she hoped against hope would never happen. The Bard's innocence was something Xena would gladly die for.

"I picked it up," Gabrielle continued, "And then there was this guy just running at me. I held the sword out in front of me, thinking he'd just run into it, you know? I was scared...but then both he and the sword just disappeared and that's when I saw Hades."

Xena gathered Gabrielle back in her arms, kissing her softly. When their lips parted she said to the empty air, "That's two I owe you, Hades."

"HA-HAAAA!" Joxer's victory crow butted into their private moment. "We are VICTORIOUS! Our blades sing in the song of battle! Our hearts...Whooooa!" he tripped over a root and fell on his back, earning the cheers and laughter of everyone left on the Field.


She turned to see Odin standing with Zeus. "Yes?"

"There's the matter of those horses." he reminded her. "The cause of all of this."

"Of course." Xena said, and called out, "Aphrodite? Are you here?"

In a shower of pink sparkles the Goddess of Love appeared. "You called, Warrior Babe?"

Xena laughed. "Yes, I did. How about that errand I sent you on."

"You mean, like..the secret errand?"

"That's the one."

"About the horsies?"

"Yup. Did you do what I asked?"

"Natch! Check this out.." Aphrodite put fingers to lips and whistled incredibly loudly. For a moment there was silence and then...

"Look!" Freya pointed to the sky, and all turned to see an incredibly large herd of bay horses flying down to land near them. Although the horses looked identical, all being the same color, each had it's own distinct personality and was very happy to be reunited with it's Valkyrie rider.

"How can we ever thank you?" Freya asked. "My People have their Valkyrie back in full force, and Odin has his prized horses returned. Name your Reward, Warrior Princess."

Xena smiled and pulled Gabrielle close. "She's the only Reward I ever want or need. The fact that she's safe and whole after this battle is all I want."

"Nevertheless, I do have a gift for you." Freya intoned, and gestured to the back of the herd.

Warhammer came forward and snorted, stretching her dark neck out to nuzzle Xena's palm.

"I don't understand." Xena said. "Warhammer is a Valkerie mount, and I...well, I'm not one of you anymore."

Odin laughed his deep hearty laugh. "Once you have been a Valkyrie, Xena, you are always one at heart whether or not you want to admit it to yourself. Take the horse, it is a gift. You DO like horses, don't you?" he raised an eyebrow.

Xena patted the sleek neck of Warhammer and swallowed the lump of emotion in her throat. "Yes, I do like horses." she said. "Thank you."

"Well then." Zeus's voice boomed. "Everything seems to be in order."

"It does." Odin clasped arms with the King of the Greek Gods and said, "It was a good fight."

Suddenly only the Greeks were left on the large battle field, and then soon many Olympians left, leaving only Xena and her friends.

"WOW that was a great morning!" Ares said, grinning from ear to ear. "I think this calls for a celebration back at Cyrene's don't you?"

"TUBULAR!" 'Dite returned, and added, "See you all there!" before she, too, disappeared with her brother.

Xena took a deep breath and mounted Argo, taking the rein of Warhammer so that she could lead the mare back to Cyrene's.

"Wanna ride alone or with me?" she asked Gabrielle.

"Uh...horses are tall enough, thanks." Gabby replied. "And one that flies...no thanks. I'll ride with you." she grinned, and was helped up behind Xena in her usual spot.

"Ohhh.....Joxer the Mighty..." began in the back of the group as they began to ride Home.

For once everyone joined in. Happy and whole, and glad that things had ended as they had.

Well, almost all were happy. Argo wasn't quite sure why Xena was leading this strange horse. Maybe it was just visiting..


DISCLAIMER: No flying horses were harmed in the production of this fanfiction piece, although Argo is now undergoing counseling for her feelings of resentment at Xena for bringing home a strange horse.

Warhammer is settling into her new home, and Toby the Stablehand is wondering just how high a fence has to be to keep a flying horse IN.

Discord and Loki are still fighting somewhere....Battle On!