Surprises:
Introducing New Xenaverse Characters Kicking Horse and (Sacred Moon) Mateksi


PART ONE by Ephiny

Ephiny and Eponin were eating the midday meal as snow fell outside. Ephiny was warm in her winter garb, a leather coat that had Amazonian markings at the cuffs and along the trim. Eponin was wearing a similar coat, a gift from Ephiny for the holiday. Ephiny also wore Xenon's gift. The young centaur and his mother had met on Solstice so Ephiny could give her son his gift of new arrows, fletched by Xena. Solstice was ending soon and everyone was enjoying the peace of the winter season.

Several other tribeswomen were gathered around the fire, eating meals, drinking mugs of whatever was available, or just conversing with each other. Spirits were high and merry.

"Are you going to eat all that?" asked Eponin, pointing at the large chunk of meat hanging from Ephiny's mouth. Ephiny popped the remainder in her mouth and answered back with a grin, "Yes. Did you want any of it?"

"Not now, you pig. You should leave some for the rest of us lowly tribe members. Your appetite will get you into trouble one day!" Eponin teased.

As they were finishing up their dinner, a messenger from the Northern Amazons came into the village requesting to see the Regent. A guard delivered the summons to Ephiny.

Saluting the Regent, the guard said, "Forgive me for interrupting you meal, but someone is here to see you. She says it's urgent."

Nodding her head to the guard, Ephiny asked, "Where is this person from?"

"From the Northern Amazons. By the looks of her, she's had a hard journey."

Ephiny finished her drink and told her guard, "I'll see her in my hut. Eponin, you're welcome to join me."

"Wouldn't miss it." stated Eponin.

A little while later, Ephiny, Eponin, and the visitor were inside Ephiny's hut.

"...and that's why I'm here. Our queen requests that you come as soon as you can. The attacks are becoming more frequent and we are in great need of your support.We don't know why we are being attacked. Every prisoner we've managed to captured has chosen to kill himself rather than reveal any information." The guard sighed quietly as she finished her message to the Regent.

Ephiny was quiet for several moments before she answered, mulling over the news. Summoning the guard that was outside the door, she said, "Please make sure our guest has food, water, and a warm bed so she is rested before she has to return to her tribe." Looking back to the messenger Ephiny told her, "I will meet with the council shortly and tell them of your problem. I will need to get their ideas on this before we decide. I don't foresee any reason why we can't assist our sisters."

Saluting Ephiny as she left, "Thank you, Regent. With your leave." The guard left Ephiny and Eponin.

Eponin looked at her friend. "I suppose I need to gather the council for a meeting."

"Could you do that? I will meet everyone here. No need to rouse concerns just yet. Everyone is enjoying the Solstice, let's just keep this quiet for now. We'll be busy enough in a few days." Running her fingers through her blond curls, Ephiny stood. "Guess I should look queenly. I need to convince the council that it is time for a good fight."

Eponin gave Ephiny a small smile before she left to get the council members.

The council met soon thereafter and it didn't take long for them to decide to aid their northern sisters. Many of them had been ready for a good fight and training was becoming routine and dull.

"When do we leave?" asked one.

"I'll take care of gathering the extra weapons" said another.

The thrill of an impending battle was coursing through the council like wildfire.

Ephiny addressed the council. "Let's get some rest tonight. Say nothing to anyone else about this. I will announce our decision to everyone tomorrow after we have midday meal. Rest well, Amazons."

The council dispersed and thankfully nothing was said to the women in the tribe. The evening went normally, with nothing out of the ordinary.

That evening as Eponin and Ephiny lay in their furs for the night, Eponin rolled over and asked, "Do you think Xena would want to know about this?"

"One step ahead of you. Already sent someone out to her and Gabrielle. Our Queen should be there, too. She's got some interesting friends that can help too." Ephiny pointed over to the new bow that she had been given by one of Xena's friends, Kha. "Anyone who can craft that, must know what they are doing."

The next day, the village was buzzing with rumors about the stranger and why they were being addressed by the Queen's Regent that afternoon. Everyone had a theory as to what would happen.

Ephiny stepped up the platform and looked at her tribe. Fires burned around the village to help keep everyone warm. "Sisters." A hush fell quickly on the assembled Amazons. "Yesterday we received a guest from our sisters up North. They are in dire need due to recurring attacks on their tribe. It has been requested that we assist in their fight." At the word 'fight', the tribe roared with gusto. Ephiny waited for the voices to quieten. Raising her hand, she motioned for calm. "My sisters. We go to fight a battle in which we do not know our enemy. We only know the part of our nation is being attacked. They have requested our help. Are you willing to answer the call?" Cheers went up all around the village.

"The messenger from the other tribe has already left to deliver our answer. In three days, we will leave for the north. Please prepare accordingly." Ephiny dismissed the assembly and stepped down.

"You really know how to get them ready!" said Eponin, encouragingly.

"Maybe. I have a feeling that we will need all the help we can get. With any luck, Xena should arrive there about the same time as we do." Wrapping her arm around Eponin, Ephiny added, "Let's go get our things ready. It's going to be an interesting fight."


PART TWO by Xena


It was a bitterly cold morning on the road. Gabrielle had insisted that they stay in camp one more day as she just wanted to stay buried in her sleeping furs. Hoarfrost clung to every branch and Argo's breath blew through her nostrils like a dragon's and ice clung on the mare's nose whiskers and her eyelashes.

Xena listened to her lifemate's complaints as she tried in vain to warm her hands in what was left of their campfire after the long winter's night. Argo snuffled right by her, picking up frozen tufts of grass that just peeped above the snow's surface. The warrior fondly scratched the horse's ears as she answered,

"We have to keep moving, Gabrielle. If we stay still too long we'll never wake up."

"Like that would be bad?"

"Let me rephrase that. We'll wake up on Charon's Boat."

"Oh." The bard fell silent, then grumbled loudly and got out of bed. "COLD! COLD!" she chattered as she hurriedly pulled on her traveling cloak.

Xena chuckled to herself as she watched Gabrielle dance around the frozen camp trying to get her blood moving. Even Argo seemed amused.

"CAW! CAW!" a raven flew overhead and then landed nearby. Xena looked up and regarded the bird thoughtfully. "Somebody's thinking of us." she said halfway to herself.

"What? I can't hear you...my ears are frozen shut."

"Ravens are messengers, Gabrielle. It's said that when one lands near you and looks you in the eye, that somebody is wishing to get into contact with you. Either in this world or...well, the next."

With another loud cry the Raven took flight and Xena returned her thoughts to striking camp. That is, until she heard the hoofbeats of an approaching horse.

Drawing her sword just in case of trouble, she stood in the roadway. Not blocking it, just prepared should the rider on the horse not be coming in friendship. But one look at the horse and rider made her sheathe her sword and hold up her hands above her head in a sign of Amazon trust.

The Amazon Messenger pulled to a halt on the frozen road, her horse out of breath but not winded (a tribute to the rider's skills and bond with her mount). She immediately dismounted and went to Gabrielle, kneeling before her and holding up a scroll for the bard to take from her. "For you, My Queen." the warrior said. "And for your Consort."

Xena snorted at the term.

"You love it, don't deny it." Gabrielle teased her partner, opening the scroll and ordering the Amazon to rise.

"Xena, there's trouble."

"Fancy that." Xena added. "Somehow it's always about trouble. What is it this time?"

"It's serious."

Xena immediately cut short the joking and went to read over the bard's shoulder. Her eyebrows rose as she read the words. "It's serious all right."

"I await your response, My Queen. " The Amazon Warrior intoned.

"Tell Ephiny that of course we'll come. We'll meet up with her....where will we meet up with her, Xena?" Gabrielle had never traveled so far to the North, although she had heard tales of the Northern Amazons from Xena who had had prior dealings with them long ago.

"There's an abandoned Amazon Village right before we cross over the Northern Border." Xena told the Messenger. "Ephiny knows of it, as does Solari and Eponin. I gave them directions to it years ago in case anything like this ever happened. We'll meet them there and join forces."

With a bow of acceptance the Amazon Messenger remounted her horse and was about to ride away when Xena called out to her to stop.

"There's a friend of mine." she said, writing directions on the back side of the scroll Gabrielle had been holding. "Her name is Kha. She and her husband Sennedjem are allies of ours. Last I heard they were not far from here at this place." she pointed to the hand drawn map. "You'll know her when you see her. There aren't many Egyptians in Greece." the warrior grinned.

"I have heard of this woman." The Messenger answered. "Ephiny herself mentioned her and said you may know where to find this woman and her husband. I'll go at once to deliver the message to her." Taking the scroll back from Xena she tucked it into her bag and then put heels to flank and horse and rider rapidly disappeared from sight.

Gabrielle sighed. "So much for traveling South." she grumbled. "Now we're going to where it's even *colder*."

"It's not that that has me worried." Xena told her as she drew her close. "It's that we're walking into an unknown situation. I just hope it's not who I think it is."


PART THREE by Xena


"Sni." the Human Being spat into the freezing cold wind, peppered with blowing snow. She patted the neck of her warhorse, and the red/brown mare shook her mane as if agreeing that it was, indeed, very cold.

"I don't know, Tanka Suka...the wind tells me that things are going to be bad before they get better between me and my People."

The liver colored mare lifted her nose to the wind and called loudly. The woman on her back knew that signaled another rider approaching and she scanned through the bad weather to see who it was. Her hand rested behind her, ready to draw her bow if she needed to.

"Sha!" Exclaimed the rider as she got within earshot. "You are witko tko ke...crazy! To ride alone in this weather...has your head left your shoulders, my friend?"

It was Mateksi. Kicking Horse's best friend since early childhood. Her name meant "Sacred Moon" in the tongue of their People, the Lakota. She had just completed the Right of Passage and Initiation to be a Holy Woman for the People; a Shamaness. Her standing with the People was strong. Like Mato, the Bear.

Not like Kicking Horse, who had never felt on firm ground as far as the People went. Just now, she had left to ride into a snowstorm to get away from the taunting, from the teasing and humiliation. Freezing to death on the open prairie, she thought, was better than listening to their tongues waggle any more.

"Leaping Deer is getting a search party together." Mateksi informed her blood sister. "If you ride back with me now, there will be no trouble."

"There is always trouble." came the reply, said harsher than Kicking Horse had meant to sound. "Forgive my sharp tongue, my Sister. It's only that..."

"You don't belong there." the Shamaness replied.

"Hiya." the warrior shook her head no. "I don't belong *anywhere*. I'm a woman who rides like a man...a warrior since I could walk. The men are right! I'm not natural! I should ride out to meet the Creator alone, with honor. Not live a lie in some man's tent wishing daily to meet Death. My pony....the one that is ready to break for riding. It's yours, Mateksi. Anything left back in my lodge is yours, too. I don't know if I'll return, but I have to search my Spirit for an answer. Maybe my Totems can tell me what the People cannot. Maybe. Maybe I'm wrong and they are right, I don't know. But I need to find out. Goodbye, I'll miss you."

Without waiting for an answer from her friend, Kicking Horse put heels to flank and drove Red Dog into the swirling snow. She knew she would never return to Camp...that Camp...again.

Sacred Moon watched her friend ride away, and then her Totem appeared in her head and spoke clearly. "Follow" the voice told her, and her Spirit answered "Ha." Yes.

"You, Kicking Horse, are crazy. You have always been crazy. Perhaps I am crazy to follow you, but you are my blood sister, my best friend and the first one to stand by me when I said I wanted to be a Shamaness. So now I'll follow you into your craziness to help you with your Quest. Creator help me." Her horse hurried after Red Dog before the pony's tracks could be lost in the falling snow.....


PART FOUR by Leonie


"Ape miya, Kicking Horse!" Sacred Moon called after her friend. Her crazy, insane, wonderful friend. They'd been together since childhood and she was not going to abandon her now. Not when she needed her most. Not when she was so close to falling away from the edge.

"Hurry then Mateksi, I"m not staying close to here so long as I have too. You said yourself Leaping Deer was on his way."

"Would it be so terrible if they found us?" Mateksi ventured.

"Hiya! Do not start this again. I cannot change what I am. No more then 'they' can change who they are." With that said Kicking Horse turned Red Dog's head forward and the two women began their journey away from the only home they had ever known.

Mateksi looked over her shoulder once more. Though she could see nothing through the blizzard that was coming but she knew her once home lay behind her. With her brothers, sisters, her spiritual wa uspewicakiyapi. Mateksi shook her head to clear her thoughts. She was Shamaness now, there was no more Morning Sun could teach her. Had he not said so himself the day she was initiated. This was the right path. Following Kicking Horse where she would go, learning what was to be learned outside of the Lakota Tribe. Clicking to her pony Wet Ears, Mateksi ducked her head and pulled her furs closer around her and tried to coax her pony into catching up with Red Dog.


PART FIVE by Ephiny


Back in the Amazon Village everyone was gathering supplies for the trip and for potential battle. Healers were gathering herbs and supplies for battle wounded and the warriors were polishing and repairing weapons. The wind blew snow and fallen leaves about the village in swirls, causing everyone to clutch their cloaks and furs that much closer about them. Fires blazed around the village but didn't help against the cold unless one was close enough to the fire.

Ephiny was meeting with the Council about the impending travel. "Arrows. We need to make sure we have plenty since we are likely to run out quickly in the first run of attacks. Blades, each person should carry at least a spare. Horses... we have someone taking care of those?" One person nodded. "Good. Hmmm... So far, so good. Anyone care to add anything else?" Ephiny looked about the small huddle.

Solari looked at the Regent. "We need more blankets. If it's this cold, then it's likely to be a lot colder up north." Everyone nodded in agreement. "Food we can scavenge ..." They heard the commotion of the messenger returning from delivering her summons to Xena, Gabrielle, and Kha. Ephiny left the group around the fire and met with the messenger.

Noting the travelerís frost covered clothes and hair she said, "You found Xena quickly. How soon can she arrive?"

Saluting Ephiny quickly, the woman replied through chattering teeth, "Xena will meet us at the abandoned Amazon village near the northern border. She said that you would know the place." As Ephiny nodded, the messenger rubbed her hands together to generate some warmth. She added, "Xena also had me forward the summons to Kha and Sennedjem, the Egyptians."

"That's what I was hoping for. I am anxious to see what those two can do in combat. Their reputation precedes them, and Xena certainly can vouch for them." Again noticing the chill about the messenger, Ephiny said, "Please make sure you get some food and warm yourself. Thank you for returning so quickly."

The messenger saluted and left to find warmth and food. Ephiny returned to the council. She recounted the information and after a short talk, the council left to make ready.

<<<<<>>>>>

The next morning, the majority of the tribe was ready to leave. The weather was slightly warmer and travel looked promising. The wagons were filled to capacity and everyone was eager to start. "The trip should take about 2 1/2 days, maybe a couple more if the snow was bad further on ahead." Eponin said to Ephiny as she leaned into her friend for some extra body heat. "I have a feeling I'll be ready to make camp tonight."

"Fine... we'll talk about that later." Ephiny grinned. "I have a tribe to lead right now." Looking back over the gathered warriors, she gave the direction to move. En masse, the tribe moved out, toward their sisters in the north and to unknown enemies.


PART SIX by Xena


Kicking Horse grumbled as Red Dog slowed of her own accord.

"Toka?" she asked out loud. What's wrong?

The mare shook her head, set her neck against the single rein and simply stopped.

"Hiya!" Heels drummed against ample belly, but Red dog stood stock still.

Then Kicking Horse heard the approaching hoofbeats and turned around to look.

It was Mateksi and Wet Ears. Red Dog had stopped to wait for her favorite equine friend.

"He is wanahosi...stubborn!" Kicking Horse said with a frown. "Why do I like this horse? She chooses when to obey!"

"Because she is like you." Mateksi answered. That made her best friend smile.

When you're such good friends with somebody, you don't have to talk long about why something happens...you just know. So Kicking Horse made Red Dog walk on, and Mateksi rode along beside her. Each was glad to be with the other, each was glad not to be alone in the world.

They rode like this for a very long time. Neither woman knew exactly how long, but suddenly the weather cleared and the snow stopped swirling. The sun came out and sent it's warming rays down to Earth Mother.

Mateksi suddenly held up a hand, signaling for Kicking Horse to halt.

"Taku?" What? the Warrior asked.

The Shamaness simply pointed to a far away clump of tall grass not yet flattened by the snow. There in stark contrast to the white of the snow was Tatanka, the Buffalo.

"Your Totem." Kicking Horse whispered, and her friend nodded.

"It is a gift, and maybe a sign. We'll follow him."

Trusting the word of the Shamaness, the Warrior pulled Red Dog back a few steps so that Mateksi and Wet Ears might lead on. The Shamaness headed in that direction. Not straight on (which would have frightened the buffalo off), but at an angle, non threatening.

As if waiting for them, the giant animal slowly ambled away only when they had gotten very close. They followed, and suddenly realized they had been led into a small stand of trees; sort of a mini forest. They had traveled very far from their plains home, but they didn't think they had traveled that far!

The buffalo leading them was a good sign, so they carried on...and then they both pulled up and stared at each other.

The Buffalo was standing next to two Deer...a Doe and a Stag. Both of Mateksi's Totems, and the female side Totem of Kicking Horse. It was very wasake ma...strong medicine.

The three animals turned as one and melted into the foliage. How could they not follow? Both women forgot all caution and cantered directly after the animals.

From all around them shone the brightest light they have ever seen. So bright they had to shield their eyes and turn their horses around, trying to save their eyes as well.

"What is this?" Kicking Horse asked. Only a Shamaness would know what was happening, but all Mateksi should answer was,

"Something very strong, but I feel no evil! Wait, my Sister...wait, and we will see!"

The Warrior grumbled, not being one to wait...but soon enough the blinding light faded, the horses nickered low their relief and both women opened their eyes. The Buffalo was the only one there, but he spoke to the Shamaness one word before vanishing himself.

"Tiyatani." At home.

Neither woman knew what had happened or how they had gotten where they had...but they were not anywhere near the plains! This place was thickly forested, with strange trees and foliage neither had ever seen in their lives. It was another world, they knew that...but what kind of a world? And why had Tatanka told them it was their home?

They sat on their horses in silence, trying to digest all that had occurred. Then they heard voices in a tongue they didn't understand, and hid themselves to lie in wait and see if they were friend or foe.


PART SEVEN by Kha


Riding double with Sennedjem while he led her stallion, Kha swore "The blacksmith is at fault. I will trust no one to do Night Winds hooves but Xenaís smith, Are you sure he'll be OK?"

Sennedjem sighed for the hundredth time "I am sure he will be fine. Toby is a wonder with the horses and when we get to Amphipolis again he will take care of him for you."

They were coming across a clearing near the place they often wintered at, and stopped. Night wind was tugging against his lead rope, his head was held high and his ears pricked forward.

Kha looked at Sennedjem "He's caught wind of something." She slid sideways and hit the ground her scimitar in her hands at the ready. She hears Sennedjem leave his horse and land with a soft thud.

His eyes skimmed the place where the thick forest bordered the clearing. He dropped his hand to his weapon and called a greeting "hola. We travel in peace. Come into the clearing where we may talk."

Kha was the first to see the riders. She raised her hand in greeting and smiled cautiously.


PART EIGHT by Leonie


Mateksi whispered to Kicking Horse, "My Nicuwe ki (Sister) we should be cautious, we are no longer in our own plane."

Kicking Horses own precautions had set in as she saw the fierce looking woman slide off her horse with ease and raised her mighty wicked sword. She felt however that these were not travelers looking for trouble. "Hi (come), Mateski." Kicking Horse laid a hand on Red Dog's flanks and lead them all out from behind the bushes.

"Hola, we travel in peace. Come into the clearing where we may talk." called the ruddy skinned man.

Kicking Horses' eyes flicked to the Shamaness, the question already being answered by Mateksiís own look of confusion at the words said by the man.

Experimentally Kicking Horse called out to the pair. "Hau." She raised her own hands, mimicking the pair, right down to the mans friendly looking smile.

"Do like the natives?" asked Mateksi under her breath.

"What else do you propose oh Mighty Shamaness of the Mysteries." Kicking Horse smirked at her.

A snort was all she heard from her friend as they finally reached the pair on the road.

The horses seemed to pay each other greetings far easier then the four humans.


PART NINE by Ephiny


Back with the Amazons:

The air had most definitely gotten colder the farther north the column of Amazons went. So far it had been close to four days. The trip was taking longer than they thought because of the melting snowdrifts caused by the recent snowfall. The horses plowed through, hauling the heavy carts behind them. Their breath snorted through their nostrils like little clouds.

The Amazons were faring somewhat better. The anticipation of what laid ahead kept them warm. Hunting for dinner had been far. So far, they had been able only to catch rabbits and the like. Everyone had covered in extra furs to help keep warm. At night, many slept in pairs for heat during the cold.

"Brrr. It's been a long time since I was this cold." complained Eponin, teeth chattering. "You think it will be much longer?"

Ephiny looked at her friend. "The scouts should be back to let us know something soon. I would think it's only about a half a day at best." The pair trudged the snow side by side. Their fur lined boots had done a good job keeping their feet dry and not frozen in the ankle deep snow. "How's everyone doing?"

"I think they are holding up well, although I hope we'll get a little rest before we have to fight anyone. Not to mention a good meal would do us a world of good." Eponin sighed. "Rabbit only goes so far."

Not too much later, a scout returned and reported to the Regent. "Just over that hill and the Amazon forest will be in sight. We've already sent word that we are arriving and someone will be meeting us just within the forest edge."

Ephiny nodded her acknowledgment. "Thank Artemis. I don't think I cold stand another night in the cold." She reached down and knocked a clump of snow from her boot.

"Not that the nights have been *all* that bad" laughed Eponin. "You've been warm enough!"

Just inside the forest, one of the Northern Amazons greeted the Regent and the company of Greek Amazons who traveled with her. Saluting Ephiny, the delegate said, "We welcome you to our lands. I am Sonara of your sister tribe. I hope your travel was safe. Come, we'll get everyone fed, warm, and rested in our village. We'll have someone take care of your horses while you rest and meet with our Queen."

Ephiny reached out and clasped arms with Sonara. "Thank you, Sonara. I know I speak for everyone that we are glad to be finally be here. How soon can I meet with the Queen?"

"As soon as you'd like, Regent. She awaits you back in the village. She and the others of our High Council will brief you about the latest attacks." The northerner bowed her head. "Now if you can follow me, we'll be in the village shortly."

After everyone was seen too, Ephiny, Eponin, Solari, Sonara, a few council members, and the Northern Queen sat around the warm coals inside the Queen's hut. Ephiny and her tribeswomen held steaming mugs of brew that warmed them well. The Queen was a tall red headed warrior, dressed in a tunic and leggings that were well suited to the colder climate.

"Greetings to you, Ephiny. My sister and Regent of our Greek Amazon tribe. I am Tigar, the reigning queen of my tribe. I thank you for responding so quickly to our call for help."

Ephiny returned the introductions and inquired of the lates on the attacks.

Tigar replied, "Not too much has changed since our courier reported to you. We have lost 8 hunters, scouts. The attacks have consisted of masked men who fight with a vengeance against us, die rather than give up any information, and leave us with few clues as to why we are being attacked and by whom." She glanced about the room. As she made eye contact with Sonara, she added, "Sonara has been in more than a few skirmishes with these mystery people. You would ask her some details, too."

Solara nodded. "The masks are made of thin leather. The markings on them are some that I haven't seen before. They fight with swords and arrows. Although, I wouldn't be surprised if they had something else ready for us. With your help, I think we'll be able to fight off an attack more easily."

Ephiny took a sip of the warming brew. "I have also sent messages for additional support from Xena. She is the Consort of our Queen, Gabrielle. They should be here soon to offer their own advice." Looking back to Tigar, she asked. "Do you have any of the masks that the men wear?"

"I do, in fact." Tigar held out her hand to one of the guards. The guard quickly produced one of the masks and Tigar handed it over to Ephiny to examine. "The masks cover the entire head and ties in the back, there." She pointed to the leather laces that were on the back of the mask. "The runes and symbols are of a god or warlord that I do not recognize. I am guessing that the men wear the masks during battle only so that they may remove them so we wouldn't recognize them as friend or foe in any other situation."

Ephiny fingered the masked, tracing the symbols. She gave the mask to Eponin and Solari to look at and turned back to Tiga and Sonara. "Would you mind if we kept this tonight? I'd like to have some time to see if I or any others in my Council might know of the symbols."

"That's fine. I won't keep you any longer tonight. You've had a long journey and you need rest." Tigar stood. "Please feel free to help yourself to any of our supplies and stock."

Ephiny and the others stood. "Then until tomorrow, Tigar." The group left and headed for their huts.

Eponin, Solari, and Ephiny walked together through the village. Solari said, "Think Xena'll be here tomorrow?"

"If not tomorrow, then the next day. She'll make good time, especially when it's important." Ephiny huddled closer to the other two as they went to the warmth of their guest hut.


PART TEN by Xena


The four people were at an impasse. Neither could understand the other's words, but neither seemed threatening. In a flash of inspiration Kicking Horse let her hands fall to her sides, her palms up in her People's sign for non combatant. Empty hands that held no weapon in a neutral position.

It was similar to a sign language the Egyptians had used themselves for silent communication on the battlefield. For the first time since their brief meeting both sides understood one another. Kha grinned and nodded, repeating the gesture and nudged Sennedjem in the ribs so that he copied her.

Mateksi chuckled. "They're fast learners."

"Be nice." her companion smiled back.

"I'm always nice. I'm the Holy Woman...you're the fierce Warrior."

To Kha and Sennedjem the two women's words were nothing but babble. No language they had every been exposed to even remotely sounded like it. They found themselves hoping fervently that the language barrier would be broken soon.

Mateksi placed one of her hands on top of the other, cupping them together as if she were shaking her own hand. "Kola." she said. Friend. "Kola." she gestured to all present.

Sennedjem got excited as he understood. "They're saying they're friends!" he exclaimed. "They're sign language *is* a lot like ours! Let me try something."

He stepped forward, repeated the gesture and simply stated. "Friend."

"Frr...frrr...end." the Lakota Women copied the speech. From the beaming smiles and nods the two tall people did back at them, they guessed they had at least come close to the pronunciation.

Suddenly there was a flash of blue light and there stood Ares. Bored, he had come by to see how his two favorite Egyptians were fairing. Now he was fascinated.

"Well this is going to be slow going." he wryly commented. "They were bantering back there a little while ago. Said you were fast learners."

"You can understand them?" Kha gasped in astonishment.

"Hey. It's a God thing." Ares told her with one of his dazzling smiles and a shrug.

At the sudden appearance of the man in black leather both women drew their weapons. Mateksi, although a Shamaness, did know enough to protect herself if need be. The God of War laughed as they exclaimed as one, "Waka sica!" Demon.

"Hardly. Demons are mere lackeys. But I trust that's about as far as your People go with the whole Gods/Goddesses thing. Here...let's make this go faster, shall we? I have a short attention span." he waved his hand and suddenly the gibberish the others had spoken became clear to the Lakota.

"What kind of magic is this?" Mateksi asked in awe. "We know your words! How can that be? Are you a lost tribe of Sioux?"

Kha, also impressed by the God's act, simply answered, "No. My husband Sennedjem and I are from a land called Egypt. This is Ares, the God of War in this land."

"War?" Kicking Horse's ears perked up.

"Yup. God of War, that's me." Ares told them, making a slight dramatic bow. "And you are..."

"I am Kicking Horse, Sukawaka Natahka in our Language. This is my Blood Sister Sacred Moon. Mateksi in our language. Are we dead?"

It seemed a reasonable question. After all, how else could they appear in a world they've never been to, seen people who did not speak their language and even see a Spirit of such strength? Surely this must be the Afterlife.

To their consternation the God of War laughed out loud. "Dead? No, not yet. You've just kind of dropped in on us is all. Not that that's a problem. But no, you're not dead. When you do die, you'll meet my brother, Hades. He's in charge of after you die. I'm just in charge of..well..how a lot of people meet him. Well, now that I've eliminated this little speech problem of yours, I'll be on my way." he nodded and made eye contact with Kicking Horse. "It's a pleasure to meet you...Warrior." And then he was gone.

We're traveling this way, to help our friends." Kha told the newcomers. "You're welcome to travel with us if you'd like, but there will be danger."

Kicking Horse smiled grimly. "It sounds good."

It was at that instant that Kha knew who the Warrior looked like. Xena! She was an exact double of the Warrior Princess, right down to her blue eyes (although not as light). Her skin was almost the same hue, her hair so dark brown as to appear black most times. Lighter skinned than Mateksi, Kha suspected a Caucasian in her family's woodpile, but was too polite to bring it up.

"Remember the rumor about Ares 'getting around'?" Sennedjem whispered to his wife. "And how some people think he sired Xena? What if..."

Kha shot him a look. It would explain some things if that was the case, but right now getting back on the road was the important thing.

"We'll follow you." Mateksi told them. "We are strangers here, and you are the first friends we have made. If it is all right with you, we would come with you, and learn about your People and your Land."

Kha grinned. "Sounds like a plan to me. Now here's the deal..."

As they continued down the road together Kha filled them in on their mission, who the Amazons were, and worked on answering the seemingly millions of questions the newcomers had for her. But they were learning fast, and Kha and Sennedjem were all ready glad they had come upon them in the wilderness that day. From what they had been told in that message, the Amazons could use all the help they could get.


PART ELEVEN by Leonie


Hours pass quickly on the road when your traveling with good company, and soon the foursome found that they were loosing the daylight.

"We can continue or we can camp." Sennedjem put up the suggestion for the other three women. "If we keep going we reach the Amazon's by early morning, or we camp and reach them by evening tomorrow."

Kha stared hard at Sennedjem's mount, Night Wind. "No, we camp. Night Wind will throw that shoe if we do not stop. With luck Xena and Gabrielle will be there already."

Kicking Horse and Mateksi attended to Red Dog and Wet Ears as their companions began to set up camp for the evening. Kicking Horse whispered comforting things to Red Dog as she brushed him down and left him in a spot with much grazing. Mateksi watched her friend carefully for signs of fatigue or stress. For though Kicking Horse would never admit it she'd gone through a loss with leaving her Tribe. True, she did not fit in, nor did she ever. But they were her Mother, Father, friends and family and though they'd never accepted her, Mateksi knew Kicking Horse would forever carry them in her heart. Seeing nothing except the normal excitement of 'being on the trail' of something, Mateksi shrugged the thoughts off and concentrated more on the surroundings of the camp.

"Even the flora is different, you know." she mentioned while pointing out the ferns and trees that were growing in the earliness of winter.

"It is not the plains, that we came from. This will be lush and with many mountains once the frost and snows clear away." Mateksi explained with some excitement of her own.

"Oh no, I"m not going to be collecting herbs with you this year. You can find someone else to be your pack donkey, and carry all your plantings and flowers." Kicking Horse held her hands in front of her as if warding off Mateksi and her herb gathering plans.

"I've a feeling Iíll have more to do in this place, then to settle with following you around the woods and gardens." Kicking Horse glanced to Kha who was digging into a pack on her mount.

"You see that sword she carries. She knows how to use it, and her body.. it has seen battles. We even go to a battle with them! They do not care that we are women or that my sword was made myself, without the blessings of our Gods. I will not be denied status here simply because of my gender. Kicking Horse's face was alight with the glow of one that has found acceptance and a place in the world.

Sennedjem called over. "Kicking Horse, does your name pertain to having any knowledge of horses then?" "Night Wind has got a nasty shoeing here, perhaps you can offer me some assistance..?"

Mateksi nodded at her friend. "Go, I will help Kha with the meal."


PART TWELVE by Xena


The Warrior nodded and approached their new friend. "My name is who I am. Sennedjem looked up. "What?" he asked, not understanding. "My name...'Kicking Horse'. It describes me. I am like a horse if cornered or threatened." she smiled grimly. "I kick."

"And she bites, too!" Mateksi called over, laughing. "She's a lovely animal."

"Anyway," the Warrior continued, ignoring her friend's joke, "That is what my name means. But to answer you, my new friend...yes, I do know a great deal about horses. But we do not put these...these...what are they?" she bent over, examining the shoe.

"Horse shoe." the Egyptian prompted.

"Ah! We do not put moccasins on our horses. I will look at his feet, though, if you would like. Maybe I can see...ah, Hai! Yes, look here..this is why your moccasin will not stay on his hoof. This part of the hoof is soft. You must keep it very dry for several days, then maybe the moccasins can be put back on."

"Well that's what I was worried about." Sennedjem shook his head. "I suppose it won't kill him to be barefoot for awhile."

Kicking Horse pointed to Red Dog, who was happily munching on nearby vegetation. "Red Dog has never had one of those on her, and she is fine. Your horse will be fine, too."

"It's settled then...I'll pull these shoes and let him go barefoot for awhile."

"And I will get some herbs and make a poultice so that the hooves will heal faster. You will still be able to ride him, so do not worry. He is not lame. Not yet anyway."

The warrior went to her pack to retrieve the herbs she needed, but stopped halfway there and cocked her head to one side.

"Shhhht!" she said, holding one hand up for silence. "I hear a horse!"

Before they could react a lone horse turned the corner at a trot. The golden hide of the animal gleamed like a piece of Sacred Corn and it's rider looked very comfortable in the saddle.

"XENA!" Kha and Sennedjem cried out at once, and dropped what they were doing to run and greet their friend.

Mateksi and Kicking Horse watched as greetings were exchanged, and excited slaps of friendship were traded as well. It was obvious that this Xena was a friend...and a Warrior as well. Something else was also obvious.

"She looks like you." Mateksi whispered.

Kicking Horse nodded. "But taller. How could this be? I have no sisters." "You were not supposed to be born, remember? The Gods gave you to your Mother when she was thought to be barren. It was a miracle."

"The Elders still talk about it." Kicking Horse said. "Then I was born...lighter skin, and strange colored eyes like beads. Nobody knew what it meant. Maybe now I know...maybe she is my Sister. Or maybe...I don't know. Let's not make a big deal out of it, all right? We will know what this means when we are meant to."

The Shamaness nodded. She knew that her friend's skin color bothered her. She burned more easily than the other Lakota, and her eyes hurt more in the bright sunlight. Yet the Tribe had no explanation of how she came to be born this way. Maybe they'd never know.

Another woman had turned the corner to catch up to the one they called Xena. She was small, very light skinned (the lightest either Lakota had ever seen) and carried a long wooden pole that was as tall as she was. "OK, that's the last time I offer to race you." she laughed, leaning upon the pole. Then she noticed the two other women.

"Hello." she called and waved to them. "Who are your friends?" she asked the Egyptians.

Kha took a deep breath. "It's a long story. But they're friends."

Xena scrutinized the women who were still standing pretty far from them, and offered a smile. She raised one hand in greeting and they returned it. "Well, it's still a day's ride to the Amazons. We should have plenty of time to get to know one another. Mind if we all travel together?"


PART THIRTEEN by Ephiny


Back with the Northern Amazons:

The following morning, Ephiny and Eponin awoke to what promised to be a warmer day. The snow had thawed a little overnight, and the sun peeped through the forest canopy.

"Mmmmm..." yawned Eponin, stretching in the furs. "I could do with more mornings like this." She sat up and looked over to Ephiny. Ephiny was already up and getting dressed. She was grumbling about oversleeping, even though the village was quiet. "Eph, you needed the rest, don't complain. Besides, guards were posted on duty last night... including some of ours. If something had happened, we'd have heard."

Ephiny slid on her coat. "I know, but I don't like sleeping when I could be planning against the next attack." Grabbing her knife, she slipped it into one of her boots. "I am going to grab some food and see if Tigar has any more information. I have some ideas for defense and want to talk some more about this mask." She grabbed the mask and was out the door.

Outside, Ephiny walked briskly to the mess hut. The breeze was warmer and ruffled her blonde curls as it blew. The hosting tribe was already about their daily tasks, and she could see some sparring in the training area. The mess hut was a small building not to far from the living quarters and was easy to pick out due to the large number of Amazons going in and out as well as the aroma of fresh breakfast. Ephiny's stomach began to growl with the anticipation of food.

Opening the door, she glanced around for Tigar. Hopefully, the Queen would be eating now and she wouldn't have to go searching elsewhere. At a table in the corner, Tigar sat with Sonara, both with their elbows propped up on the table as they ate. Ephiny went up to the cooks and got her roll, drink, and some vegetables and then headed to Tigar's table.

"Morning. Mind for some extra company?" Ephiny paused for a moment and Tigar nodded, gesturing at the seat across from her.

"Good, Ephiny. You're just the person I was going to go and find as soon as I finished here. There was a minor skirmish with a couple of scouts and two of the masked men last night. Both escaped and it seems they were testing our defenses looking for a weak spot. Your added warriors seemed to help."

Ephiny tore off a piece of the bread. "I'm glad they were there to help. I have some things I'd like to suggest for defending against future attacks." She ate the piece quickly. Just as soon as she was about to continue, shouts were heard outside. The three jumped up and ran to the door.

"Attack! Attack! Just past the stables!"

Ephiny darted over to the weapons hut where her sword and staff were stored earlier. Amazons were a swirl of activity. Ephiny raced to the edge of the east side of the village, where the attack was occurring. About 30 masked men were charging the village only to find themselves up against twice as many Amazons as before. Tigar and Sonara were already in the mix, slicing and thrusting at their attackers. Ephiny jumped into the fray and was back to back with Eponin, who had been jarred out of sleep with the calls of attack.

"Glad to see you didn't miss you beauty sleep!" Yelled Ephiny to her friend. She stuck her sword into the man in front of her and another one jumped over the falling body to fight.

"Mumph." Eponin stepped away from Ephiny and began fighting with her staff. Eponin's deadly swing knocked the enemy from his feet and her staff came down on his head with a crack. "You know I'm cranky if I don't get enough rest."

The Amazons fought the masks and soon there were 20 men dead at their feet and the others had retreated. A few Amazons followed the retreating men but came back with only news that the men seemed to have vanished into thin air.

"They ran into a thick bush and never came out! We looked around the area, but there were no other signs of them." The warrior shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.

Tigar nodded and thanked the warrior. The Queen turned toward the Southern Regent. "Let's get our wounded taken care of and then meet me back at my place. Now that you have seen firsthand one of the attacks, I'd like to hear your thoughts on it."

"As you wish." Ephiny bowed her head to the Northern Amazon Queen and watched her leave the battle field. Eponin came up to stand next to Ephiny. "You ok?"

Eponin grinned. Her face was flushed from the fighting. "Sure thing. You know how I feel after a good fight! None of ours had any serious wounds and the other tribe only had one significant injury. Not bad, I think."

Ephiny smiled at her hut mate and closest confidante. After telling Eponin of the meeting with Tigar later, she added, "Sure wish Xena was here. But knowing her, she'll have already found some clues on her way here. Let's have a look at some of these men and then I can report to Tigar. See if you can arrange to keep a body and all the masks. I want to see if there are any clues there."

The two women started working on gathering the masks and examining one of the bodies. It was well after noon before they were able to stop for food and meet with Tigar.

Meanwhile, back with Xena, Gabrielle, the Egyptians, and the strangers...


PART FOURTEEN by Xena


It had been a day and a half since the two groups had met up and decided to travel together. Xena and Gabrielle had listened intently while Kicking Horse and Mateksi told their story of how they had ended up in Greece. When all was said and done, they all decided it didn't matter in the long run *how* all of it happened; only that it seemed to have worked out for the best.

That night they had each told tales of the Lands they had come from. Kha and Sennedjem told tales from Egypt, Gabrielle told several wonderful stories of the Olympians so that the newcomers could start to get acquainted with them, and she loved how the two women's eyes seemed to get as big as one of Cyrene's serving plates at the stories of Medusa, and Jason and the Argonauts and their favorite one, Hercules' Labors. Xena went to go brush Argo when she told that one, not wanting to hear the inevitable, "Do you know him?"

The next morning they set out together and were making wonderful time on the road. Gabrielle hung back, chatting with Mateksi, who had many tales of her own to share. The Warriors up front, although talking friendly amongst each other, were also watching the surrounding areas for any signs of attack or being followed.

"How much further now?" Kha asked Xena.

"Just over that rise there." the Warrior pointed. "We should be there within half a candle mark."

Sennedjem grinned. "That's good! I could use a meal and a rest."

The sounds of battle drifted over the rise and although it was very faint, it was unmistakable.

"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled to her lifemate. "Hurry! We have to ride! There's trouble up at the Village!"

The Bard ran to Argo's side and was lifted up in her partner's strong arms to sit behind Xena on Argo's broad back. She hung on tight and they all galloped towards the battle.

By the time they had ridden within striking range, the fight was over. The group pulled up their horses and watched as the Amazons went about their tasks of picking up the wounded and dragging off the dead attackers.

Xena let out a tense sigh. "We're too late."

Gabrielle slid to the ground and got the attention of a young Amazon Warrior. "Could you tell us where Ephiny is?" she asked. "Tell her Xena and Gabrielle have come with help. The reinforcements are here."


PART FIFTEEN by Kha


Kha had briefly noted that Sennedjem had dropped back a few minutes earlier in the gallop towards the village. She was not worried. She looked forward again dismounting,

She made a brief greeting her eyes bright with curiosity. She had of course heard about the amazons and knew a few in her travels with Xena and Gabrielle, but she had never seen a village.

She saw it was extremely well organized and armed. The women were a mixed bag so to speak, some tall, some short, and all were incredibly fit looking. She found herself liking this place.

She was jolted out of her complacency by a furious sound of combat once more close to the village. Out of the woods rolled a pair of men fighting, and getting the upper hand, was her battling mate.

Sennedjem came up tackling the man who fled for the woods, then catching him by his harness that carried his blade he jerked him off his feet and backhanded him.

The man managed a blow of his own head butting the larger man in the face and then once more for good measure. Sennedjems nose bled freely and he bore a cut along his arm.

Kha swore and darted for them yelling back "It's OK, he's with me. Its my mate." She roared Sennedjems name as the man in the mask sunk a small hidden dagger into his shoulder. She stopped just short of the combatants when Sennedjem dropped the man with a blow he had learned from hours of sparring with Ares himself.

He lifted his unconscious quarry up, after he drew the masked mans dagger out. He scowled at its markings and looked at his wife who stood there, then asked the amazons ringing the combatants in "Is this one of the scum raiding your village?"

He spoke once more to the amazons who stared with some hostility "I think he might be made to talk with a little persuasion. Its why he is still alive after this..." He flicked a careless hand to his shoulder.

Kha was already checking it shaking her head "Itís deep, and will require stitches."

Sennedjem sat down on a handy log "Then take care of it before I bleed to death..." He noted with some concern the number of amazons now crowding forward "Should I leave the village Xena? I know how they react to men, and I could set up a small camp a bit away from here."


PART SIXTEEN by Ephiny

"No need to worry about that." The group of travelers looked up to see their friend, Ephiny grinning at them. "I'm sure we'll manage just fine with one man around us. We don't bite." She reached over and clasped Xena's arm. "Xena. Glad you could make it, but you missed the fun." Releasing Xena's grip, she looked to Gabrielle and saluted her Queen. "Gabrielle. You look none worse for the wear."

Xena hauled the captive up to his feet to where Ephiny could get a look at him. He still wore his mask and glared defiantly at Ephiny. Xena said menacingly, "I'm sure that you can find a use for him. Sennedjem managed to stop him as he fled."

Ephiny gave the masked man a hard look. After she motioned for 3 warriors to escort him to the village "jail", she reached over to the top of the man's mask and ripped it off. The man underneath shook his head and thrashed about, trying to break free of Xena's incredibly strong vice grip. The harder he tried, the stronger her grip became.

Gabrielle leaned up and said softly into Xena's ear, "Are you gonna do the pinch? Or are you going to show me how so I can use it on him?" Xena's hair flew around her shoulder as she turned her head to give her lifemate a quick look. She said, "I will show it to you later, now is not the time." Then she thrust the captive man over to the warrior guards, causing him to stumble and roll on the ground, sputtering dirt.

Ephiny gave a few instructions to the women and they left, dragging the man between them. "They'll make sure he's taken care of until Tigar can have a chance to speak with him. Tigar's the Queen here and she wants to meet with our Queen as soon as she arrived."

Kha took Mateski's hand and pulled her over to the group of friends. Kicking Horse followed. "I'd like to introduce you to our new friends. This is Mateksi. And this is..."

Ephiny's eyes grew large. "By the gods, Xena!! She's you!"

"...Kicking Horse." continued Kha.

The idea of another Xena running around was a bit disconcerting to the Amazon Regent. After the introductions were made, Ephiny recovered from the sight only enough to give the group a proper welcome and take them back to the Northern Village. On the way, Ephiny filled Xena and the others in on the strange circumstances of the men's escape through the bush and battle details.


PART SEVENTEEN by Xena


High on Mount Olympus the peace was shattered by the sounds of raised voices. In the Great Hall in front of Zeus' throne, two Gods argued passionately.

"Get over it all ready!" Ares shouted at his sister, Artemis. "None of your precious featherheads were hurt!"

"Not for your lack of trying, dear brother." the Patron Goddess of the Amazons hurled back. Then suddenly sounding very much like a little girl she turned to the Throne, "Daddy, make him stop!"

The King of the Gods sighed heavily. Out of all of his children, these two were the ones most often found arguing. Usually over petty matters, but this time it seemed more important. At least to Artemis.

"Everyone plays with mortals, Artemis." he told his daughter. "It's what we do."

Ares smirked.

"But as for you," Zeus turned towards his son, "The Amazons are under Artemis' protection and *not* for you to toy with! Go to Troy or someplace and play with mortals there. You seem to have a lot of fun with those men."

Ares crossed his arms in front of his broad chest. "I'm getting bored with them." he said, his mouth turning into a frown. "I want to play with somebody else."

"Why don't you go play with Xena." Artemis jibed, and that succeeded in getting Ares to conjure up a ball of energy and send it at his sister's head.

She neatly ducked the blast, but a stately column wasn't so lucky. It cracked in two, and shattered on the marble floor.

"ENOUGH!" Roared Zeus. He stood up and raised his arms. Thunder sounded menacingly throughout Olympus and both Ares and Artemis turned their attention to their Father. "Fix that." he glared at his son.

"Yeah yeah...don't get bunched up." Ares waved his hand, and the column rose again, fixing itself and moving back into place. "Better?" he asked.

Zeus nodded. "Yes. Now Ares...Artemis...I want you two to solve this problem without my having to interfere. I trust that our little discussion here helped matters?"

Artemis glared at her brother, but finally said, "I don't know what he's up to, but I want his word that he's going to stop interfering with the Amazons!"

"Oh. I promise, Sis."

They shook hands on it, and Zeus returned to his Throne, sending his children off with a wave of his hand and a fatherly smile.

He never noticed the crossed fingers behind Ares' back as he looked his sister in the eye and shook her hand.


PART EIGHTEEN by Ephiny


As Ares and Artemis left Zeus's room, Ares watched his sister stalk away. "She really doesn't know how to use those Amazons properly." Stroking his chin with one hand he said to himself, "Speaking of which..." and he disappeared.

The masked fighters were just returning to camp from the surprise attack on the Amazons, via the magical bush. The soldiers were becoming more adept at transporting through the portals the more they used them. Inside one of the tents, the warlord was removing his mask. He wasn't exactly in the best mood. His two captains stood nearby, wary of their leader's temper. Both had removed their masks upon entering the tent.

Slamming down the mask on a table, he grunted, "That attack was supposed to eliminate another quarter of those Amazons!!" He threw himself into a chair that was sitting behind the table. "WHAT happened?" He glared at the taller of the two captains.

"Sir... there were more than our scouts had reported. WE had planned our attack based on less than half the number that was in the village."

The warlord roared. "And just WHERE do you think they magically..." he waved his hands in the air, "got new Amazons?"

The captain shook his head. "I am not sure, sir."

"Ares, himself, has blessed me in the siege on this tribe of Amazons. These masks are supposed to protect us. Give us the gift of battle prowess." Pointing to the markings, he rumbled, "This symbol was bestowed on me by the God of War. When my army wins, I will rule not only the Amazons, but this entire land!"

Just then Ares shimmered into the tent with the warlord and his captains. "In *my* name -- you will get to rule. And *only* if you beat the Amazons." Immediately the three mortals went to one knee, heads bowed.

"Lord Ares. I... I..."

"Oh, be quiet." Ares rolled his eyes. These mortals really were pathetic. "Raucus, I chose you because you showed the most promise in this forsaken land. Never forget that I can *choose* someone else to be granted my favor."

"Yes, my lord."

Then easing himself into the recently vacated chair, Ares asked nonchalantly. "So, how did it go?"

The leader, Raucus, stood to his feet. His captains followed suit. The three glanced worriedly to each other and one said, "Not exactly as planned. There were more Amazons than before." The God of War raised an eyebrow as Raucus continued. "We tested the outskirts for the weakest places about the Amazon village. The few Amazons that were there were weak and we thought it would be a quick fight."

Ares laughed. "It's never a 'quick fight' with Amazons. Go ahead..."

Raucus swallowed hard. "When we attacked this morning, there were at least twice as many."

"Seems Tigar has called for reinforcements. That's fine, it'll just take longer." Giving the warlord a glare that could have turned the room cold, Ares said, "Just make sure it isn't too long." With that, The god vanished.

Back at the village, the Amazons were recovering from the attack. Kha, Sennedjem had been seen to a hut. Sennedjem was relieved to find that the Amazons were cordial and friendly, nothing like the stories he'd heard about man-haters. Kicking Horse and Mateksi were at the horse stables, seeing to the mounts. Xena and Gabrielle had met with Tigar and Sonara and been briefed about the attacks. More than once, Kicking Horse was mistaken for Xena. The Amazons were clearly fascinated but the resemblance between the Lakota warrior and the Warrior Princess. Xena and Gabrielle were walking about camp after the meeting.

Rolling her eyes, Xena said to her lifemate. "I can't see what is so interesting about me."

"It's all that leather. Some people just can't get enough of it." Seeing her friend smile, Gabrielle snickered. "Besides, Kicking Horse could be your twin. There aren't too many Amazon twins."

Xena laughed. "Oh well. I'm going to scout around the village. See if I can find any clues about why the Northern Amazons are under attack. Stay here and see what you can learn."

"Right. Stay here." Gabrielle blew her bangs out of her face and leaned on her staff. "You always get to do the fun stuff." Xena smiled again and left.

Outside the village, at the bush that had served as the portal, Xena was scoping out the terrain. At once she stood rod-stiff and her lips curled as if she smelled something foul. "Alright Ares. You reek."

"As many times as you have done that, you never cease to amaze me, Xena." The God of War, rested his arm on his belted sword as he gazed appreciatively at the Warrior Princess. "My, my, my. Long time, no see."

"Cut the crap, Ares. Obviously, you have your hand in this, otherwise you wouldn't be here."

"Oh, Xena. Couldn't I just be curious as to what my best student was up to?"


PART NINETEEN by Xena


Xena sighed and answered, "In a word...no." "You *are* in a mood today, aren't you? What's the matter? Didn't get any last night?"

"You know, you're on thin ice right now Ares so just tell me what you're up to and I'll say a few sarcastic remarks and we can end this little dance, OK?"

Ares chuckled. "I never can fool you, can I? Well, here's the scoop...I'm bored, I want to play and lo and behold here are some fun people to manipulate."

"The Amazons?"

Ares "tsk'd" and shook his head no. "You're thinking too narrow, Xena. Sometimes that focus of yours isn't a good thing. Sometimes it just plains turns into obsession."

"I wonder who gave me that trait?" the Warrior Princess snarled.

"Your father. He had the same fire in you as you do. I loved that guy." Ares took a deep breath and then went on as if he actually had no feeling for the man at all, "Oh well, ashes to ashes and all that. Or should I say, off to the meat market? Your mom carved him up pretty good."

If Ares was waiting for an emotional explosion he was sadly disappointed. Xena merely calmly returned, "Speaking of sires, you've been off to other realms making copies, haven't you?"

The leather clad God pointed at his own chest. "Me? How so?"

Xena turned and pointed to the village. They could just make out Kicking Horse and Mateksi chatting with Ephiny and Solari near the gates. "I'm talking about her, Ares. What's up with her?"

The God of War shrugged. "I have no idea, Xena. The very thought that I'd go to other realms and interfere with the natural order of things..." he flashed a wide grin and disappeared.

"I'll just bet." the Warrior Princess muttered under her breath. "I'll just bet..." she stood for a moment and observed her double. With a small grin she said to herself, "At least I'm taller by half a head. That ought to clue people in as to who is who. Not to mention she wears more leather than I do." she went to join the others.

"So what's the general consensus?" Xena asked as she came within earshot. "Has Tigar made any announcements?"

Ephiny shook her head no. "Not yet, but the whole village is on high alert. I'm expecting a call to arms any moment to move and seek out the enemy. We're tired of being the ones that are being hunted."

"Before you go rushing off to battle there's something you should know."

"The Gods are helping them." Kicking Horse interrupted.

Xena raised an eyebrow at the Lakota. "Observant. She's right, you know. It's Ares, which means it's never as simple at it may appear to be. My suggestion would be to.."

"My suggestion would be to let Amazon business be kept between Amazons, Xena. You're welcome to join us in battle, but you are not one of us and have no Voice here."

It was Queen Tigar.

Xena's mind flashed back to years earlier when she almost took up another Queen's offer to join the Amazons officially. That had turned into disaster on an epic scale, but having spent many years among them, Xena still felt the words sting.

"She's led them before." Gabrielle calmly stated. "And she's my Protector and Consort. In my scroll, that makes her worthy of a Voice. But if you feel threatened by her, maybe she and I should leave. You see, she and I are a package deal. You want help from my Tribe? Then Xena comes, too. *And* is heard."

The Warrior's mouth almost hung open. She'd never seen the Bard be so forceful! Ephiny couldn't help but grin, remembering their first meeting. Gabrielle had changed quite a bit from that day! It was a good change, but not a complete one. Immediately after saying the words, her eyes strayed to Xena's, then her nose wrinkled in the telltale grin that spoke volumes to the Warrior. She was bluffing!

Tigar shifted from one foot to the other. "I had forgotten about the battle with Queen Melosa where Xena became Queen in her stead. My apologies. No offense meant."

"None taken." Xena replied, her eyes cold. The warlord that still lay deep within her heart screamed at her not to trust this woman. The Warrior she had become since she met Gabrielle told her to wait and see. Time would tell to see which voice was correct...


PART TWENTY by Leonie


Mateksi followed Kicking Horse around the camp. They had been on the receiving end of odd stares from all the women since they had arrived. Not only did Kicking Horse and Xena look so much alike, but the clothing they wore was different from what the Amazon's were used to as well.

"We stick out like stars in the night sky." Mateksi complained. "We do not belong here, in this place of warrior women."

Kicking Horse gave her friend a bland look.

"Alright, I do not belong here. These are not a people of peace, Kicking Horse. These women are warriors that seem to revel in the battle. They carry weapons and are not afraid to shed blood. They even fight amongst themselves over who has the right to plan the next attack!" Kicking Horse shook her head. "Sacred Moon. This is the reason I did not fit in back in the Plains. I think like these women. I should have been born here, like Xena. They do not revel in the battle so much as protect their own rights to live. They fight for their own peace."

"And the squabbling?"

Kicking Horse shrugged her shoulders. "Even the Lakota squabbled about who was in the higher position of power and had the right ideas."

Mateksi grinned at the memory of Kicking Horse and Spotted Rabbit bickering over who knew how to build a proper fence to keep in the young colts. They had been so busy arguing, that the colts had completely ignored them and simply wandered through the gaping hole and took off. It had taken all day for the two to round up the ponies, then they had to deal with the stern lecture from Kicking Horse's Father.

With a smirk, Mateksi nodded. "Yes, I seem to remember that bit."

Kicking Horse rolled her eye's and wandered back to where Queen Tigar and Xena were planning with Gabrielle and the rest of the Amazon's.

<<<<>>>>

It was clear why Kicking Horse had been lead to this world but Mateksi's only reason for being here was still her friend. "I cannot live for Kicking Horse. I must find my own reason's as well." she muttered to herself.

"What? You don't like it here?" asked a voice from behind her. It was Kha, the dark skinned woman who had found them.

"Kha, I did not hear you."

Kha smiled thinly. "I would not be very good at my chosen career path if you had heard me." She joked.

"You are unhappy in this land then?" Kha asked again.

"No. Just uncertain of my own career path and weather it will be of any use when I am not in a land of my own Gods." Mateksi smiled, trying to reassure the woman she was all right. A discussion of what sort of Gods she was speaking of was not at the top of her list of things to talk about at the moment.

Kha simply smiled and laid a strong muscled arm on the short woman's shoulders. "Come, my friend. A plan is in the making, perhaps your special talents will be needed."


PART TWENTY ONE by Ephiny


While the Amazons were planning the counterattack, the army of Raucus was recouping from their own attack on the Amazons. Several of the soldiers that had escaped the Amazons brutal defense were being seen to for a variety of injuries. Raucus made his rounds to the rest of the men, making sure they saw him as their mighty lord instead of the weak man he really was. The defeat had shaken him to his very core. Why hadn't Ares told him about the new reinforcements?

Raucus stopped at the table where several men were eating. Abruptly, they leapt to their feet. "My lord."

"That I am. Your lord. Don't forget it." He was enjoying being the master of these men. Soon... soon he'd be ruler over these lands, as soon as those Amazons were taken care of and destroyed. He fingered the earring that dangled from one earlobe and gave and appraising look to one man in particular. "Barth, you are one of my bravest captains, are you not?"

"Aye, sir. I have given my pledge to serve you and your cause."

"I have a proposition for you. Meet me back in my quarters after you have finished here." Raucus walked away. Speaking to only himself, he said, "If Ares can use me, then maybe I can find a use for Barth."

Barth entered Raucus's tent. The warlord was drinking some ale at his table that also served as a planning desk. "Sir. What do you need of me?"

Raucus grinned maliciously. "You have lead a unit of men quite bravely in several attacks against the women. Doing so has made you stand out, more so than my other captains. I have been thinking..." Raucus set down his mug and stood. "... you would do well as my second in command once I am ruler here. I intend not only to rule, but to be king."

Barth's eyes grew large and he inhaled. This was more than he had bargained for!

Raucus continued. "My name will be remembered for centuries. You will be my heir presumptive, since I am not married, nor intend to be. As second in command, you will reign victorious after I am gone. Howís that sound?"

"Your offer is very generous, sir." Barth's mind was working. HE would be king after Raucus. Not a bad deal at all.

Raucus walked over and stood behind Barth. He breathed heavily into Barth's ear. "Very generous, Captain. No one else has been given this opportunity. Will you accept?"

Barth saluted his lord and future king. "Aye, sir. I do."

"Then here is your assignment. I want to attack tomorrow morning. The Amazons won't expect us to return so soon after a defeat."

"But our men are still recovering!"

"Doesn't matter. They are hurting too. Aren't you men? We can handle pain!"

Barth drew himself up straight. "Yes, sir!"

Raucus stepped over to the table and sat on the table top, crossing his ankles in front of him. His shoulder length hair hung around his face, lending him a barbarian appearance. "Then you will lead the first attack. I will come in the second wave with more men and help clean up any leftovers. You will have an equal share in the glory when we are through!"

Barth was almost gleeful as he thought about the battle ahead. "I will gather soldiers and form an attack plan immediately. We will be ready to leave before daybreak!"

Lowering his voice, Raucus's eyes glittered. "See that you do. I won't be far behind"

<<<<>>>>

In the Amazon village the women were checking their defenses. Scouts were positioned in the trees to help give warning and as a first means of defense. Tigar, Sonara, Ephiny, Eponin, Xena and Gabrielle were meeting in Tigar's hut. "Tonight we need to have a war dance. Prepare ourselves for war!" Tigar was saying. "With our sisters now joining us, we need to raise spirits!"

Xena shook her head. "No, I don't think that is a good idea. The men will attack sooner than you might realize. It's totally like Ares to try and surprise us."

Tigar grumbled. "It's been months! Our tribe has been depleted and weakened. We need something to help motivate our warriors."

Ephiny cocked her head to the side, nodding toward Xena. "I will have to agree with Xena. If Ares is behind this, then we don't need to waste time and resources on a ritual that can be postponed."

Tigar's eyes flamed. Her mouth went into a fine line. Sonara looked at her queen. "My queen, what they say makes sense. I'm sure the Goddess will understand..."

"I don't CARE what Xena says!"

The entire room hushed. Gabrielle stood. "Xena, I think we aren't needed here. I think we will get our things and leave."

Ephiny stood quickly. With a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, she said quietly, "Why are you going? You are an Amazon Queen. Our sisters have asked for our help and, in your absence, I answered their call. You can't leave!"

Red-blonde bangs bounced as Gabrielle swung to face her Regent. Gabrielle spoke through her teeth. "Tigar has insult Xena, and as a result, insulted me. You can stay and fight, but I will leave. I don't have to listen to that."

Xena stood next to Gabrielle. "Ephiny, You can handle this on your own...."

Sonara had been talking quietly to Tigar. The Northern queen stood to her feet and lowered her head. "I must apologize. The stress of the attacks has made me a little more short tempered. I have a hard time going against tradition." Raising her head, she looked evenly with Xena. "I believe your... expertise... is needed. I hope that you will stay."

"Thank you. Now let's get back to our plan."

The remainder of the meeting was spent organizing the best plan of defense.


PART TWENTY TWO by Ephiny


After the meeting, Sonara escorted Tigar to her hut. Tigar was still fuming over what seemed to her to be Xena's attempt at taking over her tribe. Snow had begun to fall during the conference, accumulating about an inch or so. Tigar shuffled through the snow, causing snow flurries to fly up into the air. "I hope Xena's plan works in the snow."

"I think it will, my queen. From what I understand, Xena's plans usually work." The pair stopped upon reaching the queen's hut.

"I can't help how I feel, Sonara. The way the women watch Xena, talk about her, listen to her. I am trusting you to lead the tribe, but not under Xena. This is *our* home. It's unfortunate that Queen Gabrielle couldn't come without her Consort."

Sonara listened as the northern queen unloaded her feelings. "I understand how you feel. But without Xena, Gabrielle wouldn't be who she is. And anyone who has been trained as thoroughly with Ares, like Xena has, a daunting reputation."

"I know. Without Xena here, we wouldn't stand a chance. I know she's an Amazon, even though she never took that step. But I can't help myself. But... anyway. Until morning, Sonara."

<<<<>>>>

Raucus was gathering his men. The final battle was in the air. The men could feel it. Ares had already been by and approved the battle plan. Inside his tent, the brown haired warlord was finishing polishing his sword. He raked his fingers through his hair. In just a couple of hours, he would be ruling this land, without the nuisance of Amazons. As he picked up his shield, he caught his reflection. Twisting his earring in his fingers he said, "Not bad. I think I am even beginning to look like the God of War." He laid down into the pile of furs and continued to admire himself. "I've got the looks. I've got the brains. Nothing can go wrong now."

<<<<>>>>

Back in the Amazon Village, Xena was brushing down Argo before she went to bed where Gabrielle was already snoring. Ares appeared behind the Warrior Princess. Even though she knew he was there, she continued her work.

Ares stepped up behind her and leaned in to smell her hair. "MMmmm. I love the smell of musk on you. Tells me you've been working too hard."

"Give it up, Ares. I'm only working hard because the Amazons are getting ready to fight off that poor excuse of a warlord you've dug up."

Ares placed his hands on her shoulders and began to rub. "You shouldn't worry, tomorrow it will be all over and you can go back home and play with your little bard."

Xena shrugged off his hands and turned around. "Tomorrow, you'll be watching everything won't you?"

"That I will... everything..." And the god raked his eyes over the raven haired warrior.

"I don't have time for this. When this is over, Ares," Xena chucked the brush into a bucket. "You'll have to deal with me." And she walked out, letting the door shut behind her.

"Man!! I love her fire!" Ares grinned.

Artemis appeared in front of her brother. "I assume there is a good reason why you're in an Amazon village?" Then hearing the door shut again, she glanced over her shoulder. Then noticing the horse and knowing to whom she belonged, Artemis added, "Ah... Xena. You never learn, do you Brother?"

"Actually, sister dear, Xena is an unexpected bonus to my little game."

"Either way. You play with your little men. But I hope you realize that now with Xena here, you haven't got a chance."

"Maybe... maybe not." He gave a shrug. "It's war... it's what I do."

<<<<>>>>

Ephiny and Eponin were getting ready to catch some sleep for a couple of hours before they had to be at their posts. Eponin saw the grimace Ephiny made as the Regent laid down.

"Tell you what, Eph. I'll take care of your muscles so you can rest." Complying with the request, Ephiny rolled onto her stomach. Eponin straddled her friend's back and began ministrations. She went on. "Kha and Sennedjem are amazing with that scimitar. Deadly blade. Her and the weapon. I'd love to get my hands on one of those!"

Ephiny grunted as Eponin worked out on particularly hard knot. "Uh huh. And Kicking Horse. besides being Xena's double, she's got incredible aim with the arrows. I've never seen anything like it. The more I watch her, she's like an Amazon... only, what did she say she was?"

"Lakota."

"Yeah. She's like a Lakota Amazon. If they ever had one of those. And her friend Mateksi. She's going to be performing a ritual while we sleep to help us in battle. She's got the makings of a great Shamaness."

Eventually, Ephiny's conversation dwindled to inaudible mumbles. Eponin smiled as she laid down next to Ephiny. "Don't fight it, Eph. Sleep."

A couple of hours later, everyone was moving into position. Some women were in the trees, others were hiding in bushes, waiting for the attack. The rest were scatter in the outmost huts and structures, to keep the fighting out of the village.

Meanwhile, Raucus was on the march. The men were wearing their masks with *his* and Ares symbols emblazoned on them. As they approached the bush that would transport them to the corresponding bush , courtesy of Ares, the men entered the bush in small groups, disappearing. When Raucus went through the bush, he reappeared just beyond Amazon territory.

The men were hunkered down, low to the ground. Raucus looked over his army. Not long now. They awaited his signal. Soon, very soon, these lands would be his.


PART TWENTY THREE by Xena


Several Amazons were finishing readying Gabrielle. The feathered mask that was hers to wear as Queen of the Amazons fit as if made for her. Xena watched the dressing ceremony, and couldn't help but be impressed. Finally they stood back, revealing Gabrielle in typical Amazon leathers and her Queen's Mask.

"Now that's something I don't see every day." Xena drawled low, her eyes sparkling.

"Xena." Gabrielle said, her hands on her hips, her voice muffled by the mask. "This is serious!"

Xena stood up, her smile gone, her eyes a bit darker than usual. "I know...so am I." she crossed the room, pulled the mask up off of Gabrielle's face and kissed her deeply. When their lips parted the Warrior whispered, "This isnít just another battle, Gabrielle. You'll be away from me and I....I couldnít let you go off with them this morning without me without telling you how much I love you. Just in case.." her voice trailed off.

Understanding, Gabrielle reached up and kissed Xena again, then traced the warrior's jaw line with a fingertip. "I love you." she whispered back. Both knew better than to tell the other they would be OK. There was no way to really know that. All they could do was pledge their love, and send the other off with their best wishes.

"My Queen." one of the now fiercely blushing Amazons said, "It's time to go."

Xena watched her Life go out the door of the hut and then allowed herself a moment of worry for the bard turned Queen. When that moment had passed, she squared her shoulders and strode from the hut herself. There was a lot to do to help the Amazons, and she'd better get started.

Xena made her way through the dense forest to a deserted Temple. Once inside, she lit the torches and announced, "All right I'm here. Are you?" There was a bit of sparkling and then Artemis appeared, her big sister in tow.

"Xena," The Goddess of the Hunt intoned with a smile, "This is Athena, The Goddess of War and Wisdom. She's agreed to your request and mine...she'll help route Ares and his thugs."


PART TWENTY FOUR By Leonie


Mateksi sat with Kicking Horse under a tree in the Amazon's camp, the two friends leaned against each other and chewed on some of the trail fare that Kicking Horse had packed with her before leaving on her journey.

"Do you think it will work here?" Kicking Horse asked her childhood friend.

Mateksi shrugged. "I do not know. This world is different from ours but not in every way. I suppose it should."

"I will stand guard over you."

Mateksi turned her face to Kicking Horse. "I know you will. I will be safe." Vainly she tried to comfort Kicking Horse. "This is not the first time you know. I have done it before, it was part of my training, in my teachings."

"Doesn't matter. I will watch anyway. We don't know how the Gods here will react to Lakota magic."

Mateksi smiled and was relived that she was not the only one who was nervous about reaching out the spirit plane in this placed everyone called Greece.

<<<<>>>>

A short time later.

Xena, Gabrielle, Queen Tigar, Kha and Sennedjem all stood in a circle surrounding Kicking Horse and the Shamaness Mateksi. Gabrielle was still decked out in her Amazon War Outfit and looked very regal next to the rest of them. It lent an aura of power to the air.

"Iíve asked you all here to help me." Mateksi began. "As was requested I will try to perform a Dream Walk to the Warlord Raucus. I ask from all of you... to send me strength and to watch, for I do not know what powers wander in your world. I am out of my element in that much, but I wish to do what I can."

Xena arched an elegant eyebrow. "Are you sure you want to do this Mateski? Sometimes the Gods of this world are unkind."

Solemnly the Shamaness nodded. "I do. This is what I am. If I can help, I wish too. If I am to stay in this world, I must learn if I can continue on my chosen path. This is but a ... useful test."

Kicking Horse alone had heard the emphasis on the 'if' of Mateksi's words. Her heart squeezed painfully at the though of her friend trying to leave. Though if that was what it came to, she knew she would not stand in her way.

Mateksi began to hum deep in her throat, a buzzing sound similar to that of bees in a hive filled the tent. The Shamaness sat cross legged, her hands laid loosely on each knee. Her back was ramrod straight and her heavy black hair hung straight to the ground. A look of concentration masked her usually smooth features and Kicking Horse could see the tension in her friends forehead.

"Sunmanitu, Kagi Taka, Hupaki Glake;
My animal friends of the Humor and Trickery.
I humbley call upon you to guide me this eve,
A foray into trouble I wish you to consider.
Frolic with me, fly with me, guide me my friends,
Take me into the deep dark, in the way only you can enter."

The Shamaness had entered a trance at the finish of these words from her lips. Though she sat in the same position, her eyelids fluttered but did not open and Kicking Horse stood still by her side.


PART TWENTY FIVE by Xena


"Is she going to be all right?" whispered Ephiny.

"Yes, if everything goes as it should." Kicking Horse answered in a whisper of her own. "This is Lakota magic and is what she was trained to do her whole adult life. She is safe, and I will guard her body while she walks the Spirit Road. Now you are free to go to Battle. This is why she's doing this, to give you help."

The Amazons didn't need a tree to fall on them to get the hint. Their place was on the battlefield, before Racus' army had chance to attack them first.

"Let's go then!" Solari grinned, and the Amazons silently left.

Xena and Gabrielle clasped arms with Kicking Horse, silently giving their support and then they, too, left.

The Lakota Warrior took up guard, and waited...hoping her friend would return safely from her journey, hoping that nothing went wrong.


PART TWENTY SIX by Kha


The Amazons didn't need a tree to fall on them to get the hint. Their place was on the battlefield, before Raucus' army had chance to attack them first.

"Let's go then!" Solari grinned, and the Amazons silently left.

Xena and Gabrielle clasped arms with Kicking Horse, silently giving their support and then they, too, left.

The Lakota Warrior took up guard, and waited...hoping her friend would return safely from her journey, hoping that nothing went wrong.

Kha methodically checked her blades testing them though she knew them well enough. She even checked the heavy ivory headed roman gladius she had stripped from Caesar during one memorable battle. She whirled it in a series of exercises then slid it home with a decisive clicking noise. She finished it with her scimitar which Sennedjem slid home in her shoulder harness for her and turned to do his own arms check.

She wore her dark armor, the gift from Ares and moved out. Sennedjem ever at her side began to carefully circle to where he thought that the bulk of them would come in. He had special plans and had made them known to his wife who approved.

She had slung her quiver of arrows on a special hook that held a sleek quiver to her leg. She was checking her bow strings strength when they heard the first furtive tread. Sennedjem drew his dagger silently, and winked at her as they separated to bring the battle to the attackers. She watched the first come gliding past her and leaped her unique dagger and slid his throat holding her hand over his mouth so not a sound was made.

She laid the body down quietly and heard a soft sighing sound. Sennedjem had found a scout also. They eliminated the scouts to the point where the main body was forced to come in blind. Pleased, Kha caught sight of a shadow moving stealthily. Xena was also ready. She flashed a sign to her friend and disappeared back into the woods.

The village was attacked, the menís deep roaring war cry was over shadows by the amazons response. Sennedjem dropped his latest and leaped from the brush with Kha and joined the battle attacking them from the rear. Kha's war cry and his echoed, almost identical. It was the unique war cry of their desert tribes and it was a chilling sound.

Kha saw their friend Kicking Horse standing by Mateksi, her weapon at the ready, and she saw several approaching them. Kha left Sennedjems side at that point springing forward bulling her way through the attackers slashing left and right.

She panted lightly, blood spattering her jaw and side of her face as she asked "Need some backup?"


PART TWENTY SEVEN by Leonie


Kicking Horse paced back and forth inside the hut, while she stood guard over Mateksi. She could hear the sounds of battle but would not leave her friend unguarded no matter how much her instincts wanted to be in the fray.

Kicking Horse watched her friend, still meditating, no longer humming though. She squatted down in front of Mateksi and simply gazed at her.. willing her safety in her 'journey'.

Black, bleak, dark. The only words to describe the place Mateksi stood now. The spirit world in this land was no different then the one in the plains. Both were places the Shamaness had learned to have some Mastery over. This one however was currently poisoned with the thoughts of the one called 'Raucus'. His mind was powerful, but weak at the same time. Power here was not from him but instead 'granted' him from elsewhere. Mateksi could see the signs of it in the mists and vortex's. Weakness came from his mind, he was so sure of himself, cocky and arrogant. His power was foul and was colored a diseased reddish black.

The Shamaness searched for the links that would lead her to the 'greater power' Raucus was feeding off of. Her feet moved of what seemed their own violation, she had found the power... or more likely the power had found her.

"What are you doing?" asked the unbodied voice. It seemed to have a hint of humor in it.

"Stopping you." Replied Mateksi with a curve of her lips. She could 'see' with her minds eye the ropes of power that lead from this ...deity to Raucus. Ares was in for a shock.

"How did you get here?Ē,demanded the God of War. He sounded more befuddled at the mortal's invading then angry.

"You brought me."

"I don't mean Greece! I mean here, Mortals don't have the competence to get here!" Ares railed. If Mateksi had known Ares as Xena did, she would have been extremely entertained to see her 'favorite' God so rattled. She did not know Ares in that way however, yet it was still 'entertaining'.

"Some Mortal's do.",was all Mateksi answered as she took hold of the ropes of power linking Ares and Raucus and yanked them free.

"You little....." Ares' voice faded away as the Shamaness quickly returned her mind to her body and to Kicking Horse.

Kicking Horse was still crouched in front of Mateksi when she opened her eyes. "How did it go?" She asked.

Mateksi nodded, she was spent mentally but her body was just fine. "I've done what I can. Raucus will get no help from Ares. For now. I don't know how much time Iíve bought you though, the Gods are different here." the curve of her lips returned as Mateksi remembered how incredulous Ares had sounded as she pulled the matt out from under him.

Kicking Horse squinted at her friend, curious at just what that smile meant. But she had no time to think on it at the moment.

"Kicking Horse! Go to battle, I am fine now, send the wounded back here, I will make a place for them."

The Warrior needed no more confirmation then that. Mateksi was safe now and she had another place to be.


PART TWENTY EIGHT by Kha and Xena


"Hai!" she nodded, grateful to be able to run at last. With a last nod to her best friend, she headed out into the sunshine. She pierced the air with a loud whistle and from around the corner came a very eager Red Dog. With one smooth vault the Lakota Warrior leaped upon the dark red back and put heels to side.

The only means of guidance were her legs, weight and balance and a pitifully small thong that was around Red Dog's lower jaw. Basically it was there for emergencies, and offered very little in the way of "steering". But Kicking Horse didn't need a complicated bridle, only the knowledge that the pony was trained well, and trusted her.

"Yi! Yi! Yi!" the warrior cried as the horse raced through the village and out into the fray. Kicking Horse smiled grimly at the familiar scents and sounds. This world was not so very different! Horses, people, arrows...this was all a good day's fighting.

Kha wrote:

Seeing her new friend emerge from the hut she was protecting with a vengeance, Kha gave a shout of greeting "There is sport to be had here my friend."

Her arrows spent long before, Kha was using her scimitar well, and to great advantage against a much larger man who roared in pain as she kicked hard, nailing him in the groin dropping him. She aimed for kicking him in the head, knocking him silly.

She swung into play with Kicking Horse covering her well. With some concern she whirled when she heard an angry voice raised in annoyance.

Sennedjem had taken on two and now had a nasty cut across his ribs where the armor he wore did not cover, A small patch it may have been but enough for a good swordsman to get a blow in. He dropped the left hand to more of less guard the cut, and went to work with his right.

He made his way over to his wife, and friend and swore "These amateurs...Ares man chose the worst mercenaries I have ever seen."

Kha looked pointedly at the blood and shook her head and declared "So I see. You let him get past your guard...." She nodded with her head "Go inside, Mateksi is taking care of the wounded. I will try to draw them away from here so she can work in peace."

So saying she surged forward and redoubled her effort.

Xena wrote:

As Kicking Horse watched Kha and Sennedjem go off on their own, her eyes scanned the jumble of bodies. Some on horseback, some wrestling on the ground, others clashing swords and wielding clubs and axes. This fight would be easy...save for her friend Sennedjem all males were targets.

"Prepare to meet the Creator!" she screamed, "For today you will die! I have no fear of you!" Red Dog dove into the mass of fighting people, her rider guiding her first one way, then the other, using her war club to dispatch many a man before she caught sight of Gabrielle felled by a menacing figure.

He was standing over the blonde, sword drawn and murder in his eye. Kicking Horse reached back and drew her bow, notching an arrow and letting it fly in order to save her friend.

Two times the man grunted as he fell dead to he earth. Two weapons buried in his body...one long and feathered, the other round and metallic. Xena's wolf like eyes met with Kicking Horse's with gratitude and respect and the Lakota raised her bow in acknowledgement...and then she urged Red Dog into the fray once more..


PART TWENTY NINE by Ephiny


While Kha and Sennedjem were using their skills to help defend the Amazon Village, Ephiny was covering Eponin by shooting arrows into would-be attackers before they could reach her best friend. Ephiny's war mask was lift up on top of her head so she could have better aim.

A fletched arrow found itself embedded in the front of a mask just as the man had raised his arm to strike. Eponin yelled into the direction of the trees, "a little sooner, next time!" and the brunette was fighting again.

Ephiny was really enjoying Kha's gift to her, the beautiful bow with etching all over it. She barely had time to really appreciate the fine structure of the weapon before she had to notch another arrow and let it fly.

The masked men seemed to come in an endless stream, pouring into the battlefield where they were met by an equally endless outpouring of Amazons. Ephiny and the remaining archers perched in the trees were beginning to run out of arrows. Within moments, Ephiny raised a finger and pointed to the ground with a nod. Ephiny pulled her masked down over her face. In sequence, the archers alighted the ground and joined in the fight amongst their sisters.

"Good day to fight, don't you think, Poni?"

"Right. Duck!" Ephiny hit the ground as Eponin struck yet another opponent. As the curly headed Regent got back up, Eponin asked cheerily, "Am I distracting you?"

"No more than usual. Duck!" Eponin shrank to the ground and Ephiny drew her sword, quickly thrusting it into Raucus's man who was intent on Eponin's demise. Ephiny snorted. "Might as well just stay nearby to make sure you don't get lost!" The two women turned back to back and fought off more men.

Kicking Horse was impressing many of the Amazon women with her impeccable skill with the bow and arrow. The shorter version of the Warrior Princess/Lakota style, was busy releasing arrows and slashing those who got too close with her blade.

Xena and Gabrielle were fighting near each other, Gabrielle with her staff and Xena throwing the chakram over her lifemate's head to kill an approaching enemy.

The strawberry blonde Queen looked at Xena with a quick grin. "Thanks!" Immediately following her comment, she swung her staff into the gut of another man.

Noting that Gabrielle was faring well for now, Xena focused her attention back on her attackers. Giving the smile that many men had feared before they themselves died, she said, "Some men just can't get enough! Well then, come on!!" Three men charged at her and before they could reach her, Xena was in the air, swiping the faces as she did so. When she landed, the men were unconscious and she went and retrieved her chakram. As she was pulling it out of the fallen man's head, another came behind her, sword drawn. With a look of annoyance, the warrior princess kicked hard to the back, throwing the man several feet and rendering him unconscious.

The Northern Queen and Sonara were handling things well, but Sonara had taken several hits. The woman was pouring blood from more than a few deep cuts. With concern etched in her face Tigar looked at the weary Amazon. "I need to take you to the medics. Now. You can't last much longer out here."

"Donít worry about me!" Sonara struck another man down. As she turned to face her Queen, she collapsed. Tigar pulled the other woman close to her. Sonara was fading fast. Knowing that she was dying, Sonara put on a brave face. The fighting continued around them, seemingly unconcerned about the tragedy that was unfolding. As Sonara slipped from this world, Tigar held her. Sonara, in spite of her pain, had slipped into eternal slumber with a smile on her face. She was happy knowing that her Queen cared enough for her to stop everything as she left this life behind. Tigar lowered her face to Sonara's and wept.

Ephiny and Eponin could see Tigar kneeling on the ground, but were too engrossed in the fighting to be able to make it to her. Close to Ephiny, Raucus was dueling with a younger Amazon. As she watched him bury his weapon into the teenager, she was filled with fury. Ephiny shouted over her shoulder to Eponin. "Poni!! Cover me! I'm going to kill that bastard!" As one, the pair of Greek Amazons leapt over the bodies before them and charged Raucus.

All the while the battle raged, Ares leaned against a tree and was enjoying himself immensely. Artemis appeared next to him and glared hard at the God of War. "I hope you're satisfied, dear brother."

Not taking his eyes off the battle lust before him, he answered with a sly grin. "Oh, I am. I am."


PART THIRTY by Ephiny (CONCLUSION)


Xena had just finished off another of Raucus's men when she could see in the trees just beyond Ares, with his ever present smirk. Not every mortal was able to see Ares, but Xena could because of her past ties with him and the fact that he always wanted her to find him. Anger boiled up inside her knowing he was there and was the cause behind all this. She gave a quick look to Gabrielle and began to make her way to Ares.

Ares was watching the battle gleefully when Xena came up behind him, dagger at his throat.

"How clichť', Xena. I'm a *god*. You can't kill me." Ares rolled his eyes as he turned around.

"You don't think I know that? I just enjoy the image it gives me." Xena lowered her blade. She looked past his shoulder at the war between the Amazons and Raucus's men. "Innocent blood was shed, and all for your amusement. What's the reason?"

Ares laughed. "Oh, no reason. No reason at all."

Xena was beyond being just incensed. She growled as she lunged at him. Ares met her sword with his, clash for clash. The God of War and the Warrior Princess battled it out. Xena took her anger out on the cause of the war, Ares just enjoying sparring with his favorite mortal. The pair leapt into the trees and hopped and skipped over the branches, all the while swinging the swords at each other. Eventually, Ares was tripped up by his student and he found himself falling to the ground. Xena wasn't far behind him and raised her sword to his throat again.

Ares gave a half smile. "While it's been fun, Xena, the fun's over anyway." He made a clicking sound with his mouth, winked, and disappeared.

Meanwhile, Ephiny and Eponin were racing over fallen men and women and dodging separate battles to get to Raucus. The warlord was pulling his sword from another Amazon's body when the Greek Amazons approached. "Seems I have to fight you women off with a stick!" Raucus growled. He raised his bloody sword at the pair. "My sword's thirsty for some more Amazon. How about you indulge me?"

"Not likely." replied Ephiny as she glanced his sword off her own. Eponin was defending her back while she fought the warlord. The blonde curls flew around her head as she rolled and missed Raucus's ill-managed jabs. "And you call yourself a leader? Give me your name!"

"My name? You will fear it, if you survive!" Raucus ran toward her again, sword aimed for her belly. Ephiny clinked her sword against his.

"Your name!! I want to give something back to the Queen, other than your head. Aaarrrr!!" Ephiny looped her sword in a maneuver that disarmed Raucus. Quietly, she asked, "Your name."

Raucus was defiant. But thinking his men would save him, he gave his name. "Raucus. Soon to be ruler of this land. My men..."

Ephiny shoved her weapon into Raucus. He was eternally surprised as she said, "Oh do shut up. All I asked for was your name." Raucus grunted and his hands wrapped around Ephiny's sword blade. He was still shocked when his last breath left him.

The battle didn't last much longer, the army once seeing their leader fallen scattered or died on the battlefield. All the Amazons whooped and hollered at the victory. All, except Tigar.

Gabrielle was found holding and soothing the Northern Queen. Tigar had stopped crying but needed the comfort of someone who understood her pain. Hearing the victory shouts of her tribe she stood with the grace she could muster. Pushing past her pain and grief, she shouted, "Amazons!!!"

That evening, funeral pyres were lit for all the fallen tribeswomen. The Greek Amazons had only lost about 4, while the Northerners had lost more, not including those who had died before the battle and before Xena and Ephiny arrived. Tigar stood in front of Sonara's pyre with a solemn look on her face. Gabrielle and Ephiny stood near Tigar while Xena sang her mourning songs for the women who had died that day.

"She was everything to me. She was more than just an advisor. I'm going to be lost without her." Tigar stared into the flames, grief ever apparent in her eyes.

Gabrielle laid a comforting hand on the queen's shoulder. "I know how you feel. But Sonara would want you to lead your tribe to future greatness, not forget about your destiny."

"I know. But home will be empty without her. I will lead my tribe, but differently now. This was has changed me."

Ephiny nodded. "War changes us all. It can't be helped."

Tigar smiled sadly at Ephiny and Gabrielle. "Thank you for coming to help us. We wouldn't have survived without it." She turned to Xena. "And I want to apologize for my behavior. Jealousy isn't the best quality in leader." Tigar reached her arm forward.

Xena clasped Tigar's hand. "Accepted. I think we'll leave in the morning, so you and your tribe can mourn your dead in peace."

Tigar smiled again. "Thank you. When we recover from this, we'll be stronger than we were." And all four turned back to faces the flames.



THE END

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