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The southerner cautiously exited the temple and ascended the path, listening for signs of the remaining five armed men. She paused behind the pile of rocks blocking the path from the temple. Peeking over the top of the highest rock, her eyes scanned over the area. All clear, she concluded but waited a little longer, just in case.
Her pulse raced as she glanced at the trail back to their tent and concluded that waiting would just give HANK more time. Mel prayed she would arrive in time as she climbed over the rocks and headed back to their tent.
At the edge of the clearing of their camp, Mel paused behind a tree and scanned the area for gunmen. Not finding any, she crouched down low and ran to the tent. She breathed a sigh of relief no one saw her as she paused a moment to catch her breath. Stealthily moving along the tent wall, Mel stopped when she found a vertical tear in the canvas she knew wasn't there earlier. Pushing her glasses up, she looked around then poked her head in. She grinned with relief.
Good ol' Hank was on the floor, hog tied and gagged.
Hearing someone approaching the tent, Mel quickly sought cover and entered through the tear.
"I want to see Hank," a man blurted with annoyance. "Get out of the way," he added, starting to go around.
"You can't see Hank, he's busy right now," Richard responded firmly.
The man smirked. "It sounds like he's not so busy right now. . . "
"I said you can't go in there. . . Hank will shoot both of us," Richard responded uneasily, starting to panic.
"Look ass-hole, I'm tired of this, now move aside or I'll shoot you," the man snapped, pushing past him and entering the tent flap.
Richard didn't hear anything else except the sound of a punch and a body collapse to the ground. "Whew," Richard blurted as he looked around, spotting no one else.
"Richard?" Mel carefully poked her head out of the tent flaps, startling Richard.
"Melinda? What are you . . . " Richard responded, eyes nervously darting around camp.
"Where's Janice?" Mel interrupted impatiently.
"Uh . . . I don't know. She just told me to keep guard out here and don't let anyone in the tent."
Mel rolled her eyes. "Keep up the good work Richard," Mel relayed flatly before retreating back into her tent.
She stared at the two unconscious men on the floor a moment. It was almost too easy, Mel thought with amazement, looking at her hand she clenched into a fist then opened again. She wondered if Janice ever felt like this after a fight. The amazing surge . . . or perhaps, buoyancy would better describe it she considered. That might explain Janice's tendency for getting into fights, Mel mused with a small grin.
Five down, three to go, she counted. Pushing up her glasses, she took a deep breath before leaving the tent to search for Janice.
Janice quickly ducked behind a large tree at the top of the hill. A thug was climbing back up the steep dirt path, finished with his search at the river's edge. She patiently waited, hearing him mutter between groans that came with each grinding step up the trail.
Finally at the top of the hill, the winded man looked back down at the river and rolled his eyes. Shaking his head, he started back to camp. He passed the tree and suddenly stopped when his face ran into the archeologist's elbow. His knees buckled as his hands shot up to cover his bloody nose from the cartilage-shattering blow.
Removing a piece of hemp from her pocket, Janice quickly stepped out from behind the tree to tie up the fallen man. Her eyes widened to find the man was still standing.
"Shit," Janice cursed as the man lunged towards her.
Grabbing her shoulders with his bloody hands, he shoved her against the tree. "Ugh," she blurted as her back slammed against the rough bark. "Do you know how hard it is to get blood out?!?" She complained looking a hand on her shoulder as her knee found his weak spot.
"Uhhh," the bloody nosed man yodeled with an unnaturally high-pitch as he quickly huddled over.
Janice grabbed the new soprano's shoulder as she hurled her fist towards what she hoped was a glass jaw. Her fist was deflected as he surprised her with a tackle. They fell back onto the dirt trail leading to the river, each struggling for control as they tumbled down the steep and bone-jarring path.
Their tumbling was abruptly halted by the glue-like mud at the river's edge. Janice broke free from the man's grip and scrambled to her feet with an annoyed groan. The mud was slowing her down.
The man reached for a rock where he lay and threw it at her, hitting her in the arm, causing a sharp sting and the mud on her shirt to splatter.
"What the hell was THAT?" She berated the man now on his feet, and grabbed a fallen branch. "You throw like a girl," Janice added, knowing it would annoy him. She swung the branch at him with such force it knocked him back down into the mud and broke the makeshift bat in half.
"GOD DAMMIT," the man yelled than moaned, grabbing his throbbing arm. "I think you broke it!" He blurted with shock.
"What are you complaining about? Now you have an excuse for throwing so bad," Janice smirked, tossing the broken branch away.
With his pride more damaged than his body, he eyed her with the growing desire to shut her up . . . permanently.
"Get up," Janice ordered as she pulled her muddy pistol from its holster.
"Drop it," a man at the top of the hill ordered loudly, bringing a slow grin to the muddy gunman's face.
Janice slowly turned to see the rifle pointed at her. Her eyes rolled.
"Toss the piece," the man repeated more forcefully to the annoyed woman.
Janice sighed, tossing it onto the dry ground, causing a thunk.
The muddy man scrambled to his feet with a full grin on his face. He rubbed his arm and slowly rotated it as his angry eyes focused on the archeologist.
This wasn't good, Janice concluded. Her mind raced for options and quickly came up with nothing. This really wasn't good, Janice reluctantly admitted.
A loud crack at the top of the hill averted everyone's attention away from the muddy riverside. The startled man jerked his rifle towards the surprising sound as a second, more purposeful snap sounded. He found a tall, raven-haired woman on the other end of the whip now wrapped around his weapon. His wide eyes followed his rifle as it quickly left his hands and was caught by the intimidating woman.
"You really shouldn't point guns at people . . . it's not just impolite . . . someone could get hurt," Mel relayed with a frown of disapproval, reluctantly holding her new possession.
The pair by the river stood motionless, gawking at the skillful disarming of the rifleman. Dawning on the two muddy spectators that their battle was not yet finished, their eyes slowly turned towards each other.
As the man quickly reached down to his boot, Janice tackled him into the river, making a huge splash.
"Oh my!" Mel blurted nervously, looking down to the river. Seeing an opening, the rifleman lunged towards her.
As Janice and the thug wrestled for the knife, they fought the knee-deep water as much as they fought each other. Janice grew concerned her punches and kicks seemed to produce little more than spectacular splashes. She was getting tired.
In a small victory, she knocked the knife from the man's hand before it could stab her. However, it took both her hands, leaving herself open.
As the large hairy hand on her head started to push her under, Janice gasped for air before her face was thrust into the water. As he tried to grind her face into the mud on the river bottom, she successfully squirmed to be face up. However, the man's girth and well-placed knee kept her pinned beneath the surface. Her eyes opened to see the dark rippling blur denying her the air she desperately needed.
Frantically she grabbed for his hands as her lungs screamed to let their valuable contents out. Feeling his knee let up, she desperately pushed up with a surge of her fleeting strength, hoping to break the surface to steal some precious air. Her hopes were dashed when the man's knee crashed down against her.
Large bubbles of air burst the surface, bringing a sadistic smile to the man's face.
His smile disappeared when he felt two hands latch onto his shoulders with bone crushing strength. He was immediately yanked from the water and thrown against a boulder, with a thud.
"JANICE!" Mel called out fearfully, pulling the archeologist from the water.
Water trickled out of the archeologist's mouth as Mel quickly carried her friend's limp form to shore. Mel nervously lay her friend down on the firm land.
"Janice. . . JANICE," Mel frantically called to her friend as she grabbed her chin and shook to wake her. Not getting a response, she turned Janice's head to check her pulse and found it racing wildly.
As more water dribbled out of the archeologist's mouth, Mel took a nervous breath and straddled the archeologist. Placing her hands on her friend's abdomen, Mel reminded herself there would be plenty of time to faint later and pushed. A gush of water escaped the archeologist's mouth. Another firm push expelled the remaining water.
The archeologist started to cough, gasping for precious air.
"Thank the Lord," Mel said in a whisper and closed her eyes a brief moment.
Janice's coughing subsided as her breathing slowed and became deeper. Blinking a couple of times, the face of the beautiful woman hovering over her finally came into focus. If this was what death was like, Janice didn't think she'd mind it so much.
"Janice?" Mel asked tentatively.
The archeologist coughed again and eyed the raven-haired woman curiously. Thanks to this woman with the whip, she wasn't dead. But that didn't make any sense, the dazed archeologist thought with confusion. . . .
"Xena?" Janice asked weakly, making Mel roll her eyes.
"No silly, It's ME . . . MEL!" Melinda blurted in her distinctive southern voice, shaking her head then pushed up her glasses.
"Mel . . . ," Janice repeated, letting the information sink in. "You saved me . . . ," Janice said in soft amazement, looking from the southerner still hovering over her, to the unconscious man about twenty feet away.
"You looked like you needed some help," Mel responded with a smile.
"Yeah . . . thanks," a still dazed Janice said softly, making the southerner, who was still hovering over her, beam.
"Your welcome," Mel responded and affectionately removed soggy wisps of hair from her best friend's face and squeezed her shoulder.
Janice cleared her throat, incredibly aware of the hovering southerner's invasion of her personal space. However, the archeologist didn't want to say anything . . . this time. The woman did, after all, just save her life and was feeling really happy about that, the archeologist considered. . . .
"I hate waiting," Xena relayed with irritation as she walked with Gabrielle through the streets of Zemal to check on the defenses . . . again.
"Really?" Gabrielle responded crisply with a thin smile, having heard that particular comment more than she cared too.
Xena sighed and rolled her eyes. She noted the other Zemalians were also getting frustrated with the interruption to their normal life. One group shook their heads, muttering something as they eyed the two walk by.
"Xena, waiting is good. It gives us more time," Gabrielle informed her with conviction, seeing but ignoring the group of Zemalians.
"More time as prisoners?" Xena snapped, then felt the bard hold her arm, stopping their walk. The bard looked at her warrior, who sighed in anticipation of the lecture she was expecting to receive.
"More time for hope, Xena," Gabrielle relayed as firmly as her grip on her warrior's arm, looking into her warrior's eyes. "As long as there's life, there's hope," Gabrielle informed the unconvinced warrior, who wondered where she got that hope. Her own source was in short supply.
"It's still not too late . . . you could to leave with Argo," Xena suddenly informed her as if it hadn't been discussed before, as if it wouldn't lead to another heated argument.
Gabrielle's jaw clenched tightly as she glanced to the ground, thinking how to respond to that very annoying and very old debate. With a deep breath, Gabrielle stood with her head up and looked Xena in the eye.
"You wouldn't have been able to convince the bard from Poteidaia to leave her betrothed. What makes you think you can convince the Queen of the Amazons?"
"I was HOPING the Queen of the Amazons would see the bigger picture," Xena snapped.
"I can't and WON'T leave you . . . and if you think I will, you've been hit in the head one too many times!" Gabrielle snapped back.
"Well the QUEEN is being just as stupid as the bard!" Xena snapped, making Gabrielle plaster on a dangerous smile.
"When I said I would marry you," Gabrielle countered coolly. "Apparently you didn't realize what that really MEANT. . . ."
"It wasn't supposed to mean THIS," Xena blurted angrily, motioning to the blockades in the streets and the militia mulling around.
"For Better or WORSE," Gabrielle responded crisply.
"It's not supposed to mean 'stick around until you get yourself killed because you are too dense to know when it's time to GO," Xena countered.
Opening her mouth to respond, Gabrielle's eruption was preempted. The lookout's bell rang wildly, prompting the Zemalians to run to their defensive positions. A chill ran through the women as they realized their argument was now moot.
Bayentes men finally appeared in the distance and were advancing towards the city.
"On the bright side Xena. . . ," Gabrielle relayed weakly, her heart dropping. " . . . the waiting is over."
The two women looked at each other a silent, urgent moment. A wide range of emotions swept over their faces - from anger . . . at the other for being so pig-headed and themselves, for wasting time being angry, to fear . . . of the uncertain future and the chance that if one of them actually survived, they would be the one, to love. . . the calming force they shared, giving them focus and strength in the frightening chaos surrounding them.
Xena opened her mouth, wanting to say something but fell silent, unable to find the right words. Empathizing with the source of Xena's irritation, Gabrielle put her fingers to her warrior's lips. Looking into the apologetic blue eyes, she offered a small understanding smile, showing words were not needed. The bard replaced her gentle fingers with her lips.
"Be careful," Gabrielle relayed simply, pulling back from the kiss.
Xena took a deep breath and nodded. "You too," she whispered.
They turned to face the uncertain future. . . together.
Bayentes glanced down at the battle in the valley below them with a grin.
"Nice day, isn't it, Rolf?" He asked his lieutenant and sipped water from a skin.
"Yes sir," the lieutenant relayed flatly, also looking down at the battle unfolding.
The warlord's uneasy horse shifted forward, but Bayentes quickly stopped his movement with a small tug at the reigns. "Easy boy," he added warmly and patted his horse on the neck.
"Did you notice how she put the blockades in the street," Bayentes pointed enthusiastically. "The riders will try to jump over them no doubt," he added.
Lieutenant Rolf nodded, then saw three daring horsemen easily plucked off their horses with a taut rope that mysteriously appeared across their path as they attempted to jump over the blockades.
"Look! See, just what I told you. That must have hurt," he responded with a chuckle and shook his head at the fate of the riders.
The lieutenant's eyebrows furrowed at the warlord's amusement about the loss of three horsemen. A loss he fully expected. . . the lieutenant noted.
"Oh! . . . LOOK, Rolf. Look how effectively that militia uses FIRE against our small squad, there," Bayentes pointed out interesting aspects of the battle as if it were a training exercise.
Rolf looked uneasily between his warlord teacher and the battle below. A battle that didn't seem to be going well for his men.
"One should not underestimate a desperate people trying to protect themselves . . . or those trained by the Warrior Princess," Bayentes offered, shaking his head. "A lesson to be learned well, Rolf," Bayentes added with fatherly conviction.
"Are you expecting us to lose?" He asked nonchalantly, trying to keep the growing concern out of his voice. He didn't want to annoy Bayentes . . . like all his former lieutenants.
"Why?" Bayentes spoke slowly, his eye drifting from the battle below to the young lieutenant.
"Just wanted to know what you thought," Rolf responded uneasily and swallowed hard.
The Zemalian defenses slowed the soldiers but did not stop their advance.
With swords clashing around him, Staveros dodged a soldier hurled against a wooden post which still managed to hold up a store's porch roof after the violent impact. Only small stones and dirt came sprinkling down on him. Glancing up, he breathed a sigh of relief then focused on Xena. His hands nervously clenching around his axe.
The Warrior Princess stood in the middle of the street with her sword drawn, waiting for the rider racing towards her.
Gabrielle glanced up from the soldier, now on the ground thanks to a swift sweep of her staff. Seeing the rider, her first impulse was to yell out to her warrior to watch out. But she didn't want to distract Xena, who looked like she knew what she was doing. The bard silently prayed looks weren't deceiving. When the rider came within forty paces of her warrior, Gabrielle couldn't help but take in a sharp, fearful breath.
Xena raised her sword over her head and brought it down quickly, slicing through the air.
With that signal, Staveros swung his axe against the wooden post, chopping through a rope. A barrel of stones, swung into the street. As the barrel hurled towards the rider, Xena's eyes widened when she realized her timing was off.
Dropping with his now unconscious horse, the rider hit his head on the ground and didn't move.
Glancing around to see if Argo saw, Xena grimaced, feeling bad about the headache the innocent horse would have. Seeing Staveros instead, she cleared her throat and nodded confidently.
A proud smile emerged on the merchant's face.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes with a sigh of relief, considering her rapidly beating heart wouldn't be able to take much more of this. She wondered how Xena ever managed to fight with the distraction of a vulnerable young bard, who used to think a staff was no more than a walking stick.
The bard's legs were knocked out from under her as the soldier on the ground swept his leg under hers.
"Ugh," the bard blurted, falling onto her back with a thud. "Serves you right," she silently scolded herself, sitting up and blocking a blow by the soldier's sword. With a powerful strike to the back of his knees, she toppled him to the ground next to her. With a quick follow-up blow to his head, he remained on the ground as she jumped to her feet.
The bard scanned the street, eyeing the various fights as she looked for her warrior.
She noted the Zemalians holding their own, buoyed by the early successful surprises with the barricades and fire bombs. Her eyes finally found the familiar leather clad woman . . . but in an unfamiliar situation. The Warrior Princess was losing ground to a swordsman.
The bard's attention was reluctantly diverted from her warrior when another soldier came rushing towards her.
Xena knew the strikes were nothing extraordinary . . . yet they kept coming, hard and fast. The sword that was once a seamless extension of her body was now a foreign piece of metal, fighting her just as much as the enemy standing before her.
A sting shot up her arm with every awkward block. Very close to losing her sword a few times, Xena's sheer determination not to be bested by this unremarkable soldier, not to mention a strong grip, kept the weapon in hand.
She remembered defeating men like this with no more than a cold glance. Now she was actually being driven back by this thug, Xena silently groaned with frustration.
Hearing another eager soldier announce his presence with a war cry, she quickly ducked, allowing the sword meant for her back to bury itself into the thug's gut. No sense in letting an opportunity pass, she considered, eyeing the skewered soldier fall over.
Xena turned and grabbed the surprised second soldier, shoving him into two more swordsmen rushing towards her. She glanced around, spotting Gabrielle busy with two soldiers of her own. Xena's attention quickly returned to the three men cautiously approaching her.
They stopped and looked at each other, then the infamous Warrior Princess, anticipating a dangerously spectacular move. Yet, she just eyed them, unsure of how to proceed.
Though she could think of a bunch of possible moves, she had no idea if her body would respond as needed. Considering her current skill with the sword and staff, she had no desire to risk a somersault. Xena really did not want to be remembered for losing a battle because she broke her own neck.
The three swordsmen once again advanced towards the Warrior Princess, causing her to back up, step for step. One brave man broke from the pack, deciding to lung first. But his sword missed its mark. Xena's reflexes were quick enough for her to avoid the sloppy attack.
A second man tried his luck, whirling his sword and rushing towards her.
"What in Tartarus is going on?" Bayentes wondered aloud, gawking at an unsuspected turn in the battle below them.
"Another trap?" Rolf offered.
"Perhaps," Bayentes responded. His jaw dropped when he saw the Warrior Princess barely block the second man's attack with her sword, but get hit in the jaw with the hilt of his sword and stumble to the ground. "Why would she let herself get hit like that?"
"Maybe she's tired," Rolf suggested.
"No," Bayentes disagreed, shaking his head with a frown. "I've seen Xena go for days without sleep and STILL best platoons much better than this pathetic group," Bayentes blurted with great disappointment at what he was witnessing.
Rolf's eyes narrowed with annoyance at the slight on his men.
"This is really . . . odd," Bayentes muttered and scratched the side of his earless head, seeing the redheaded woman just save Xena from the third soldier's sword blow with a well-timed staff block.
"Maybe she was hurt in the previous battle!" Rolf blurted hopefully.
"Maybe," Bayentes sighed then looked at Rolf. "Let's see for ourselves," he ordered, pulling out his sword and kicking his horse into a gallop.
Finished blocking a blow meant for Xena, Gabrielle knocked the third soldier onto the ground. Spotting the other two soldiers attempting to get up, Gabrielle quickly responded with two hard blows, keeping them down.
As she caught her breath, the bard's heart dropped as her weary warrior quietly picked up her sword from the dirt and stared at it in her now unskilled hands. Xena glanced up to the bard. Xena's eyes briefly betrayed her feeling of loss before it was quickly buried.
"Hey, that's only three. I've still got four thousand and seven to go before we'll be even," Gabrielle joked, with an uneasy smile.
Xena nodded and looked around as she rubbed her throbbing jaw. Spotting Staveros, who held his bleeding arm as he was being chased by the soldier who gave him that wound, she tensed and looked to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle also glanced over to Staveros then back to Xena expectantly.
"Go . . . I'm fine." Xena blurted as she stood erect and squared her shoulders.
Gabrielle paused a second, then nodded and rushed off to help Staveros.
All around them, the Zemalians were growing tired and losing ground. There were less than half still standing, and there was still fighting going on. The only consolation was that only about half of the platoon was still standing as well.
The one soldier Gabrielle fought, became two, then three. She grew uneasy as they surrounded her. At first she was able to stop their blows, but when they started to work together, she found each strike towards a soldier resulted in attacks from the others. She grew tired and started to feel the sting of sword tips which left small cuts on her skin.
The three men finally disarmed the redheaded woman only after suffering through a number of painful blows. "Bayentes will be pleased," one soldier mused, eyeing the wooden trophy in his hands.
Seeing a nod from the soldier with the staff, the two struggling to hold the bard suddenly let go. The staff whipped through the air, solidly hitting the bard's back and knocking her to her knees.
Hearing the pained moan from her bard, Xena glanced over to see Gabrielle on her hands and knees. With the next strike by the soldier with her staff, the bard collapsed forward, into the dirt.
Forgetting her own fight, Xena started to go to her when she was struck solidly in the arm by the soldier's sword. Through only luck, the sword hit her bracer. Xena's head snapped back to the attacking soldier in time to see the sword hilt before it hit her squarely on the temple. With her knees buckling, she fell to the ground in excruciating pain.
The soldier raised his sword over the fallen ex-warlord with stories of victory dancing in his head. . . the soon-to-be-famous head of the man who bested the Warrior Princess. He'd be known as Timerus The BRAVE, or Timerus The GREAT . . . perhaps Timerus the Brave AND Gr. . . .
Timerus moaned and crumbled to the ground after being kicked in the chest by the fallen warrior.
Xena remained on the ground, shaking her clouded head. Looking up, Xena blinked a few times. Finally able to focus, she saw the disturbing sight that until now, only filled her worst nightmares . . . Gabrielle down and surrounded by soldiers and her enemy riding into town to claim victory and most likely . . . his pound of flesh.
She felt sick.
Bayentes trotted through the streets of Zemal, shaking his head with an amazed grin at this surprise victory. Only one platoon of mediocre soldiers had managed to defeat the Warrior Princess, who was struggling to get up, still dazed from blows to her head.
"Seize her," he called out to his men, pointing to Xena. Four soldiers, including Timerus, carefully surrounded Xena, then jumped her.
She fought to free herself, kicking and punching the best she could but couldn't manage to break out of the soldiers' hold.
"Xena, calm DOWN," he ordered her as a father would a rowdy child. He quickly dismounted and walked to the bard, pulling her up on her knees by her hair.
"Ugh," Gabrielle moaned, her hands grabbing his hand on her head.
"Or she dies now," Bayentes added placing a dagger at Gabrielle's throat, getting the Warrior Princess' undivided attention and immediate cooperation.
Gabrielle's eyes blinked opened to see the man with no ears.
"Bayentes," she gasped, barely above a whisper.
The fear in her wide eyes amused him. He returned the dagger to his belt and chuckled.
"What gave it away?" he asked, stroking the side of his head where his ear once was.
"And you must be Gabrielle," he said warmly, releasing the handful of red hair, and stroked her head gently. "I've heard so much about you," he offered, caressing her ear before she pulled away from his touch.
A touch that sent shivers through her.
"I feel like we've already met," he added, smiling warmly, then looked over to Xena, who was staring at him, motionless and restrained by three soldiers. Timerus the Great lay unconscious at her feet.
"So, Xena," he called out to her as he walked towards her. "Bad day?" He laughed and suddenly stopped, looking up to the bright sun.
"Hot day, isn't it?" He offered. Xena took in a sharp breath.
"Yessss," he hissed slowly, relishing the moment. "You remember, don't you?" He asked, looking deep into the eyes of his enemy. "Only. . . ," he paused and smiled. "You're the one sweating . . . could it be you're cold heart has finally melted, Warrior Princess?" He asked curiously with an amused smirk.
"I'm sorry Bayentes," Xena offered softly.
He stared at her a moment. "You actually sound sincere," he acknowledged with a shrug and unsheathed his sword. "But it's a day late and a dinar short. You'll understand if I'm still angry with you, won't you?" He casually motioned to the side of his head.
He turned away from the Warrior Princess and walked towards the very concerned red head, who struggled unsuccessfully to get out of the soldiers' grips.
"NO! Bayentes, I was the one who hurt you. Not her. It's MY crime," Xena blurted fearfully as he continued walking towards Gabrielle.
"Oh, don't worry Xena," he responded with a wave, closing the distance to the bard. "I have great plans for you. . . but you'll have to wait," he relayed with a smile.
Xena struggled and pulled her arm from one soldier's grip only to be punched in the kidneys. "Uhhh," she blurted bending over in pain.
"You don't want to do this," the bard blurted firmly to the earless warlord, still trying to twist free her arms from the soldiers.
"You know, it's a good thing you don't wear earrings," he relayed with a smirk.
Gabrielle blinked a couple of times, then swallowed hard.
"Really, you DON'T want to do this," the bard repeated quickly. "If anything happens to me, my family and friends will seek justice . . . they won't stop until . . . "
"Gabrielle, that is all I am doing. . . seeking justice," Bayentes interrupted her and lay the tip of his sword on her shoulder. He motioned to the soldiers and they released her.
Xena struggled once again and received another round of crippling punches from the group struggling to hold her. She fell to her knees with a moan.
Gabrielle looked around at the soldiers then the sword on her shoulder.
"What will you do after you get your . . . justice?" The bard asked. Bayentes' eyebrows furrowed, not expecting that question.
"Do you really think you'll be able to talk your way out of this?" Bayentes leaned in and quietly asked the bard.
"Well, I thought I'd give it a shot," Gabrielle answered honestly. Bayentes smiled.
"I'll tell you what, since you amuse me, I'll just kill you," Bayentes offered, looking closely at her ears.
"Is there a third option?" she asked weakly, as Bayentes limbered up his sword arm by whirling it around. He looked at her and sadly shook his head no.
The distant sound of thundering hooves and Amazon war cries drew Bayentes' attention away from the bard, whose hopes soared. The soldiers not busy restraining the Warrior Princess, readied their swords for the impending battle, including Rolf who considered they should be paid a lot more for fighting Amazons.
Turning his attention back to the bard, Bayentes nodded with approval. "Amazons . . . I didn't count on them," he admitted with a smile. "Too bad we don't have time to discuss how you managed that," Bayentes relayed with a shrug.
"I'd be more than happy to tell you ALL about it," Gabrielle offered.
Rolf looked nervously at the bard, the Amazons riding in fast, Bayentes, then his sword and concluded it was likely to be a bad day for them too.
"You're stalling almost saved you, Gabrielle," he relayed. "Almost," he repeated as he took a breath and lifted his sword overhead.
Gathering the last bit of strength from within, a bloodcurdling yell erupted from the beaten warrior who released her rage upon the three men. Her eyes flickering with wild anger, she ripped free from their hold, brutally pummeling them into the ground.
Undeterred by the angry display, Bayentes smiled and started the blow which would finally give him some satisfaction. Some revenge for his scarred life. . . .
As the sword descended, Xena was too far away to plunge her sword into his chest or even tackle the bastard. In sheer desperation, she reached for her only chance to stop him and hurled her chakrum towards Bayentes with all her might.
As the cold metallic weapon left her uncertain finger tips, she held her breath as she watched its wobbling flight towards Bayentes.
With a loud clang, the round blade clashed into the warlord's sword, successfully knocking it far from his hands. Continuing its furious flight, the chakrum collided with the stunned Lieutenant's sword, causing it to smack him in the head. Finally, chakrum's desperate journey ended.
It struck flesh.
The southerner stood, inspecting the area. She double checked the two unconscious men, who were now by the boulder, neatly tied up and gagged. She glanced to the river which almost claimed the life of her best friend and shook off the chill that accompanied that disturbing thought.
"Do you hear something?" Janice asked as she tried to stand, unsuccessfully muffling a moan.
Mel was quickly at her side helping her up.
"No, which is a good thing," Mel informed her weak friend, who once standing, motioned for Mel to let go of her arm.
Mel frowned, reluctantly letting go. The archeologist took a few steps before her knees buckled. Once again, the southerner was at her friend's side, preventing her from falling.
"Uh, Janice, Maybe you should sit and rest a spell. . . ," Mel suggested uneasily, left arm firmly supporting the archeologist's arm, while her right arm wrapped snugly around the smaller woman's back.
"There's eight armed men out there, Mel," Janice responded with annoyance. "Make that five," she corrected herself, eyeing the two men and thinking of good ol' Hank. "We don't have the luxury to sit and rest a spell," Janice stubbornly added as she removed the southerner's hands off her arm and hip.
'Lord grant me the . . . ,' Mel silently prayed as she watched Janice take two steps and fall down with a thud.
'. . . strength,' Mel completed her thought as she shut her eyes a moment and took a patient breath.
"Actually, by my count, there's only one left, Janice," Mel relayed to the archeologist, who was closely inspecting the ground.
"Ppffftt. . . ," Janice blurted into the dirt. "One?"
"Uh huh," Mel answered, rolling her eyes considering the redheaded woman was absolutely THE most stubborn person she had ever met.
"So you . . . took care . . . of the others?" Janice asked hesitantly, rolling on her side and looking up at the southerner.
"Well . . . yes. It just kind of happened," Mel shrugged and crouched next to her friend with a weak smile. She averted her gaze, finding some fascinating blades of grass.
Janice's suspicious eyes narrowed.
"And you suddenly becoming so good with the whip?" Janice mentioned, remembering the incredible display on the top of the hill. . . the tall woman's confidence and skill . . . so amazing, so. . . . Janice cleared her throat.
"That also 'just kind of happened'?" Janice asked skeptically, making Mel uneasy.
"You're acting like something BAD happened. Saving your life was a GOOD thing, don't you think?" Mel countered with annoyance.
"Depends on what it cost you, Mel," Janice responded with innate caution.
"Cost me? I didn't BUY anything and I certainly didn't ask for this, well, not at first. . . But that man kept pestering me about what I wanted . . . so I told him. It got him to go away. . . well, he actually. . . ."
"Whoa. . .WHAT man!?! What "THIS" are you talking about?!?" Janice snapped, thoroughly confused by the southerner's rambling.
"Janice . . . It's a long story," Mel hedged, and quickly stood up to pace.
"Well, gee Melinda, why don't you just sit right down here a spell and tell me?" Janice responded in a sarcastic southern accent, drawing an unamused look from the southerner.
"Janice," Mel uttered with annoyance. The archeologist sighed wearily and sat up, rubbing her eyes. After a silent moment, Janice sighed again.
"Mel, please . . . tell me what happened," Janice urged her southern friend softy. Mel glanced down to the archeologist whose green eyes reflected genuine concern.
"I'm not sure what happened, Janice. . . or why, but I really believe it's a good thing," Mel relayed with soft enthusiasm.
"How can you say something is a good thing if you don't even know what happened," Janice countered. "Or WHY?"
"Janice. . . ," the southerner started to reply but stopped when her eyes darted towards a sound at the top of the hill.
Janice curiously glanced up the hill, wondering what Mel heard. Before Janice could ask, Mel wrapped the archeologist's arm around her neck and lifted the surprised redhead off the ground.
"What the He. . . ow," Janice blurted as she was placed down behind the cover of a large boulder, near their unconscious captives.
"Sorry," Mel cringed. "I'll be back," Mel informed her and started to stand.
Janice grabbed her arm, stopping her.
"Where do you think you're going?" Janice snapped.
"To take care of the last one," Mel answered, glancing up the hill then back to upset green eyes.
"You can't be serious," Janice asked incredulously.
"I'm very serious," Mel responded, pushing her glasses up and glared at Janice, who was not pleased.
"Mel, the guy has a GUN," Janice informed Mel.
"You don't LIKE guns," Janice reminded Mel of that very important point.
Mel stared patiently at her irritated friend, who wasn't going to give up.
"Do you remember WHY you don't like guns? They shoot BULLETS which really really hurt if you get hit by one. . . if you're LUCKY enough to not get yourself KILLED!"
"Janice, I'll be right back . . . don't worry," Mel relayed in a soothing voice as she patted her fuming friend on the shoulder. When she squeezed the archeologist's shoulder and once again tried to stand up, Janice quickly grasped Mel's hand.
"Janice," Mel exhaled, her patience wearing thin.
"Do you have any idea what you're going to do?" Janice asked, struggling to reason and not yell.
"I think so. . .," Mel relayed with a shrug. That wasn't the answer Janice wanted to hear.
"Mel . . . ," Janice responded with a strained voice.
"I was able to handle myself with the others," Mel quickly countered with annoyance. ". . . and you KNOW we need to take care of the last gunman or he could free the others. So unless you can get up and stop me, Janice, I'm going."
There was something different in Mel's eyes, Janice noticed. An almost threatening glare, which Janice met head on.
"So, you've made up your mind to do this," Janice stated fact as she continued to meet her southerner's gaze until Mel dropped it. Janice didn't know if that was a good or bad sign.
"Yes Janice," Mel sighed. Janice reluctantly let go of the southerner's hand she realized she had been still holding on to.
"Could you kill?" Janice asked bluntly.
Mel looked up abruptly. "I . . . I won't have to, Janice," she responded uneasy about the thought. "Why are you asking me that??" Mel asked with annoyance.
"Guns, smuggling, gold. . . those men are not playing 'tea party' Mel," Janice spoke curtly.
"I know that Janice," Mel snapped at the condescending remark. "We're wasting time, I should go," Mel added coolly.
"You still owe me an explanation about what happened to you," Janice muttered angrily, staring at the ground. It was useless to argue. Mel had made up her mind to go, and nothing was going to change that incredibly stubborn woman's mind, Janice concluded with irritation.
Janice's eyes widened in surprise when she suddenly felt the southerner's gentle fingers cradle the back of her head and soft lips press against her forehead.
"I'll be careful, Janice," Mel relayed softly with a warm smile for her very quiet friend, who no longer debated whether to complain about the southerner's huge personal space problem. She was far too worried that the southerner would never invade her personal space again.
With the silent archeologist looking on, Mel pushed up her glasses, picked up the whip, and took a deep breath before departing on the steep trail up the hill.
When Mel disappeared over the top of the hill, Janice looked to the sky then closed her eyes. Damn . . . she's going to drive me nuts, Janice concluded, taking a couple of preparatory breaths before slowly standing up.
A stunned Bayentes glanced down to the ground. Laying before him was the bard, her back torn by the red-stained chakrum resting in the dirt beside her still form.
He glanced to the Warrior Princess who was equally still, staring at the woman she called her soul mate . . . the woman she just felled.
Grinning with delight, Bayentes reached down for the unexpected prize. As he stood with the chakrum, he was hit by two Amazon arrows and collapsed to the ground.
With an arrow protruding from his leg, Rolf quickly hobbled over to the warlord's side. A small wave of vocal Amazons rode into Zemal quickly following the wave of deadly arrows. The two dozen soldiers who still stood after the surprise attack scattered, fearing for their lives.
The small group of Amazons paused a moment, seeing their injured Queen, before doing their best to realize the soldiers' fears.
The Warrior Princess was oblivious to the fighting erupting all around her. Oblivious to everything except the disturbing calm in the center of the violent storm . . . where all lay still . . . where all time had stopped.
Her body somehow managed to move to the wounded bard's side. She blinked a few times, realizing no amount of blinking would erase the bloody image before her or wake her from this nightmare.
When the weight of this accident finally hit her, the Warrior Princess sucked in a ragged breath and dropped to her knees . . . the weight was far too heavy.
"Gabrielle! Xena!" Sustra called out, jumping off her horse and rushing to their side.
Sustra felt a wave of nausea hit her seeing her Queen's back. She pushed that feeling down, quickly realizing she couldn't afford to waste any time being sick. Xena was not doing anything . . . except staring at Gabrielle's wound.
"Are you going to let her BLEED to death?" Sustra snapped at the motionless Warrior Princess, then groaned with frustration at the lack of response.
As anger competed with fear, Sustra swiftly inspected the injury. Here we go again my Queen, she though uneasily, glancing at the old scar on her back. This injury was longer than that dagger wound, she noted. Like you'd expect from a glancing slice from a sword, she considered, which didn't make sense since she thought she saw the Bayentes' sword was knocked away by Xena's . . . . Her eyes widened as she looked at the Warrior Princess.
Gabrielle groaned slightly, returning the uneasy Amazon's attention to her immediate concern. . . stop the bleeding. . . .
With a hard swallow, Sustra reached past the dazed Warrior Princess. The Amazon's nervous hands hesitantly pushed the two sides of the wound together and pressed down.
"Artemis help me," Sustra blurted nervously, looking around at the battling Amazons, then to Xena, who's shocked eyes stared at the injury she caused. "Help us," Sustra added.
"We need a healer!!" Sustra yelled to anyone who would listen.
Pouring ale for the small group of Amazons who came in her empty establishment for a meal, Cyrene's eyes met the eldest Amazon's curiously.
"That army camping in the South, is that the reason you came here?" The innkeeper mentioned. "To fight them?" She added uneasily.
"Yes. Please sit," Frea offered. "I am Frea, the eldest of this group," she added.
"Frea, our city has seen enough fighting. We don't want any more trouble," Cyrene relayed as she sat down. Toris came up and stood behind his mother, placing his hand protectively on her shoulder.
"Don't blame you. But you've got it," Frea answered. "That army is waiting to attack Amphipolis. We're here to . . . discourage . . . them."
"How do you know they want to attack Amphipolis?" Toris blurted, drawing the Amazon's eyes to the tall man with striking blue eyes as she sipped her ale. Frea's eyes lowered to the older woman with equally striking blue eyes.
"Your daughter sent word," Frea relayed to Cyrene, ignoring Toris, whose eyes rolled at the slight.
"Xena sent word?" Cyrene smiled with surprise.
"No, Queen Gabrielle sent word," Frea countered, finishing her ale.
"QUEEN Gabrielle?" Cyrene asked with an amused chuckle. She quickly stopped chuckling when she noticed the annoyed glares from the Amazons.
"Gee Mother, is there ANOTHER family secret you've been keeping from me?" Toris joked, a sly grin.
"Toris," Cyrene scolded him. "So Gabrielle is a Queen?" Cyrene asked with surprise, having vaguely heard she was sort of adopted by the Amazons through the little information her daughter bothered to let slip.
"Yes," Frea answered, looking at her empty cup and frowned.
"Oh! Here you go," Cyrene responded, grabbing the pitcher.
Gabrielle, a QUEEN of the Amazons, Cyrene thought to herself as she poured the older Amazon a drink with a smile. She always smiled at the thought of the red headed young woman, whose friendship had made such a difference in her daughter. A remarkable difference, she thought thankfully. Cyrene made a mental note to have the young bard tell her the story of how THAT managed to happen.
"Thank you," Frea responded politely.
"So, you were saying . . . why was the army camping outside of Amphipolis?"
"Your daughter didn't say why," Frea relayed.
Cyrene chuckled again. "You do know, though I love her like one, Gabrielle is not really my daughter, don't you?" She grinned with amusement.
"What!?!" Frea blurted with furrowed brows, sitting straight up in her chair. Cyrene almost jumped.
"You have not recognized Queen Gabrielle?" Frea asked with great concern.
"Recognized?" Cyrene repeated, thoroughly confused, looking up at her son who shrugged.
"You have not yet given your blessing?" Frea asked with alarm in her voice.
"Well, I have prayed for her safety," Cyrene offered, still confused about what this Amazon was talking about.
Frea's eyes narrowed, wondering what she meant by that.
"Do you not intend to formally recognize the Queen?" Frea asked forcefully.
"As is the custom," Frea informed this difficult woman.
"WHAT custom?" Cyrene asked, throwing her arms up with exasperation.
"The formal recognition before the ceremony," Frea added the obvious.
"WHAT ceremony??" Cyrene and Toris blurted in unison.
In the makeshift hospital that once was a bustling tavern, the Amazon Queen was carefully lowered to a cot by Eponin, Staveros and Trayla, as Sustra continued to hold the wound together. Though cringing when hearing another moan out of Gabrielle, Sustra knew that was a good sign. The dead don't moan.
"Trayla, send word back to Ephiny," Eponin ordered the Amazon, who nodded and immediately departed for Amazonia to inform the Regent of the events.
"She's not dead YET, Eponin!" Sustra snapped, still pressing her hands on the bard's back.
"Sustra, Ephiny needs to know," Eponin said calmly as she knelt by her nervous friend, checking the Queen's pulse. It was weak but beating, Eponin noted with a sigh.
". . . all of this," Eponin added, glancing up at the still silent Warrior Princess, who numbly followed them into the tavern.
None of the Amazons believed Xena could deliberately cause Gabrielle harm, yet, none could believe the Warrior Princess was capable of such an accident. They didn't know what to believe and Xena wasn't speaking. All they did know was their Queen was injured and helping her was their first priority.
"I've already sent Solari to get Frea," Eponin relayed, shifting her gaze from the immobile Warrior Princess.
"That's a day's ride there and a day back," Sustra snapped, her hands still pressing against the wound.
"I know," Eponin relayed with a sigh.
"What should we do?" Sustra asked Xena, who continued to look at Gabrielle, oblivious to the question.
A disgusted Eponin unsheathed her sword and walked over to the fireplace.
"WAIT! If the wound is seared, the back muscles might not heal right . . . she might not be able to use her staff. . ." Sustra nervously blurted to the group, which fell silent.
"Do you really think you'll be able to keep her from bleeding to death over the next two days while we wait for a healer?" Eponin snapped.
"I'll. . . I'll sew the wound," Sustra relayed with forced confidence and cleared her dry throat.
"Did you know?" Cyrene asked, pouring them both a mug of ale after their meeting with the Amazons and Amphipolians about the army.
"No," Toris answered, shifting on the bar tool to look at the last people leave the once again empty Inn. When he looked back at his mother across the bar, she was staring at him skeptically.
"I didn't, I swear," Toris blurted defensively. Cyrene held her skeptical gaze a moment longer then sighed.
"Marriage," Cyrene blurted, shaking her head in amazement as she sat down next to him on a stool.
"Yeah," Toris sipped his ale. "I suppose it must be love. . . ," Toris offered, withholding an amused grin.
Cyrene nodded, as she sipped her ale. A small lopsided smile emerged as she thought her little girl finally finding love after everything she's been through.
". . . unless Xena got her in trouble, " Toris added, bursting out in a giggle, earning a healthy swat from his mother.
Mel stood behind a tree and carefully peeked around to see the camp. She immediately spotted Richard, who was still standing in front of their tent, scratching the back of his head. Rolling her eyes she started to leave the cover of her tree and head for the tent, when she saw Hank emerge.
Her wide eyes saw Hank say something to Richard, before patting him on the back and returning to the tent.
"Oh dear," she silently moaned, retreating behind the tree.
Climbing the first few steps on the steep path, Janice felt like her tired lungs were going to explode. She reluctantly sat down, frustrated with herself. How did she let things get so out of hand, she wondered with a grimace.
As her heartbeat slowed and her breathing became more regular, she became more aware of the numerous aches and pains throughout her body. A body in desperate need of a long, hot bath. Like her clothes, she mused and looked down at the drying mud caked on her shirt. "Ugh," she moaned at the ache in her neck rebelling against the movement.
A massage would be really nice too, she considered, rubbing her knotted neck with a sigh. My kingdom for a back rub, she considered with a silent chuckle, wondering what it would take to convince those southern fingers. . . . Janice immediately stopped rubbing her neck, staring blankly at the trail.
Taking a deep breath, Janice resumed her slow climb up the steep path. It wasn't long before her muscles started to shake again from exertion. With a disgruntled groan, she sat again, trying to catch her breath and rest. She was thoroughly annoyed that she hadn't even made it half way. Too impatient to get enough rest, she pushed herself off the unforgiving path. To her surprise when she looked up, she found Mel rushing back down the path. No sense in wasting energy, the archeologist considered and sat back down.
"Mel? What's wrong??" Janice blurted, seeing the uneasy look from the southerner.
"Richard let Hank go and I don't know if they found Georg in the temple yet," Mel quickly relayed to Janice as she kneeled beside her. She took a deep breath and waited for Janice to tell her what they should do.
"Temple?" Janice asked with alarm, wearily wiping the sweat from her brow and still trying to catch her breath.
"What do you think you're doing?" Mel scolded her restless friend as she reached out and squeezed the archeologist's shoulder.
"Wheezing right at the moment . . . whose temple?"
"Janice, never mind the temple, Richard let Hank go . . . that means we have MORE than one left. . . at least three now," Mel blurted and pushed her glasses up.
"Mel, I want you to take my truck," Janice told her as her hands patted her pockets, looking for her keys. "and . . . aw SHIT!" Janice blurted, when she remembered she gave Georg the keys.
"What kind of friend do you think I am? I'm not . . . ," Mel responded with great annoyance.
"I don't suppose you know how to hot wire a truck now?" Janice interrupted with a hopeful suggestion and raised eyebrow.
"Janice, I am not going to hot wire . . . "
"We need to get to Georg, can we get to the temple without being seen?" Janice interrupted again.
"Ah . . . I think I can," Mel relayed, looking uneasily at Janice, who understood her hesitation.
"Yeah, I'd slow you down," Janice acknowledged quickly. "Go get Georg and the keys and get some help . . . the police in Amphipolis are probably the best bet," Janice relayed with an encouraging nod, pleased with that plan.
"Janice! I'm not going to leave you here alone. As you have so carefully pointed out to me, these men have GUNS," the southerner blurted, her blue eyes glaring at the archeologist.
"I won't be alone, there's Dick," Janice shrugged, realizing that really wasn't much.
"But he's on THEIR side, Janice," Mel responded with confusion.
"No, he isn't," Janice informed her.
"You mean, he's on our side?" Mel asked hopefully.
"No, Mel, he's on HIS side," Janice relayed bluntly.
"Oh well, THAT's a relief Janice," Mel rolled her eyes.
"Mel, would you stop arguing and just GO," Janice blurted with exasperation.
"Not without YOU, and how can you possibly trust Richard now, after he . . . ," Mel responded heatedly then added "Oh dear. . . ."
Not hearing the noise that alerted Mel, Janice did, however, hear two rifles being cocked. The two women took a breath and sighed as they slowly turned to look up the hill.
"And here you are . . . honey," Hank blurted with a smug grin.
Mel looked back at Janice with panic. Janice gazed into her wide eyes with a surprising confidence. Mel's eyes darted to Janice's hand which was now on the southerner's knee.
"Help me up," Janice said softly. Mel silently nodded.
"If you weren't so damn STUBBORN, you'd be driving back from Amphipolis now," Janice blurted loudly, surprising Mel, who was lifting the archeologist from the ground with a firm arm wrapped around her back.
Mel's face contorted at the accusation. Before she could respond, she felt Janice's hand on her shoulder squeeze gently, halting the rebuttal on her lips.
"There's only two," Janice said very quietly so only Mel could hear.
Mel glanced up at the two men waiting on the top of the hill with their guns still trained on them. "They were in the tent. The three in the temple may still be tied up," Mel whispered.
Feeling Janice squeeze her shoulder again, Mel realized it takes two to argue. "Oh," she blurted quietly, making Janice roll her eyes.
"ME?" Mel yelled back. "Where do you think the other gunman is?" Mel asked softly then added loudly, "If you didn't keep ARGUING about me going, we certainly wouldn't have been CAUGHT."
"WHAT? Ugh. . . " Janice yelled, stumbling. Mel quickly prevented her from falling to the ground. She assumed the stumbling was a delaying tactic. That kept her from fainting.
"Don't know, but I bet Richard is still at the tent. He won't get in the way," Janice softly informed her.
"If I had a nickel every time YOU started an argument . . . ," Janice blurted loudly as Mel helped her upright. Looking up to the men at the top of the hill, Janice noticed them shaking their heads.
"You'd have five cents, ALMOST!" Mel interjected, wrapping her arm around Janice's back again. "Are you suggesting we . . . ?" Mel asked in a low, soft voice that unexpectedly resonated through the surprised archeologist.
Janice turned her gaze to the southerner and nodded weakly, feeling a little flush.
"I, on the other hand, would be a MILLIONAIRE!" Mel turned forward and added loudly. "Are you sure you're up to it?" Mel asked quietly with concern, unconsciously tightening her hold around the archeologist's waist.
"Would you two just SHUT UP and get up here?!?" Hank finally snapped, rolling his eyes. "WOMEN," he responded to his fellow gunman. "Can't live with 'em," he offered then stopped, patting his rifle. After a quiet moment, the two men chuckled.
"I don't think we have many options," Janice offered softly with an apologetic look in her eyes.
As they slowly ascended the hill, Mel felt more of the archeologist's weight leaning against her. Under any other circumstances, Mel would have found that weight comforting. However, at this moment, Janice was weak, gasping for air and they were heading towards two angry men with guns. And, Mel strongly suspected, the angry men would have no compunction shooting them.
"Took you two long enough," Hank blurted suspiciously, carefully eyeing the two women, recently learning the lesson to not underestimate Dr. Covington.
"She's hurt," Mel offered coldly, her eyes narrowing at HANK as she pushed her glasses up slowly.
"So it seems," Hank blurted, unimpressed. He pulled a cigar out of his pocket. "You know honey, you weren't very nice in the tent," he added, lighting his cigar.
Janice took a deep breath. "Sorry," she said insincerely.
"Uh huh. I've wasted valuable time looking for the damn gold. Now, you can save us all some trouble and just tell me where you put it . . . before I start shooting your friend here," Hank informed her with a smile as both rifle barrels pointed at Mel.
Mel glanced between the two men and their guns and judged them careless for standing so close. No problem, she concluded and looked at Janice, who struggled to push down her fear.
When Janice glanced towards Mel, she found a confident southern eyebrow raised. Janice's eyes narrowed questioningly, causing the second southern eyebrow to meet the first. Janice nodded almost imperceptibly before looking back to Hank with a thin smile.
"What makes you think I have the gold?" Janice asked innocently, successfully provoking the annoyed man, who groaned as he swung the butt of his rifle towards Janice's head.
With gravity on her side, Janice managed to duck under the blow as the southerner grabbed the barrel of the other man's rifle. With a growl, Mel swung the surprised body on the end of the rifle into Hank with such force, Hank fell to the ground.
Janice pulled out her pistol, hoping she wouldn't have to see if the caked on dirt would prevent it from firing. She pointed it at Hank, who quickly glanced around and found his rifle, just out of reach.
"SHIT!" Hank yelled out.
The man clung to his rifle in a vain attempt to wrestle it free from Mel's grip. Janice watched curiously as the determined gunman continued to struggle as Mel scratched the back of her neck with her free hand. Mel sighed and thrust the heel of her free hand into his face.
The rifle now in her possession, Mel quickly turned the scary weapon around and aimed it at the stunned man who stumbled to the ground with a broken nose.
Mel glanced uneasily at Janice, who looked at her with concern.
"I'm ok," Mel said softly, pushing her glasses up with a nervous hand.
"Mind if I hold the rifle? I'd feel . . . " Janice offered and immediately received the weapon from the relieved southerner. " . . . better."
Hearing footsteps approach the tent, Richard smiled and got up from a cot. Pushing the tent flap aside, he stepped out of the tent. A strong hand grabbed his throat.
"Ugh," he blurted, surprised to see the tall southerner.
"It must be really exhausting to constantly be switching sides," Mel said with crisp civility. "How DO you do it?" She added with feigned interest.
"Urghuh," he blurted in response, as she drug him from the tent opening by the throat.
His eyes darted nervously to the two bound men marched into the tent by Janice and her rifle. As Janice passed him, she paused to look up into his bulging eyes. Shaking her head, she entered the tent.
Finished gagging her captives, Janice left the tent to join Mel and Richard outside.
"Mel, he's turning blue," Janice relayed uneasily.
"Oh," Mel responded casually, letting go. Richard's hands shot up to his neck as he gasped and fell to his knees.
"I've never wanted to strangle anyone before," Mel admitted coolly, eyeing Richard, who still was gasping. "Well, not counting Hank," Mel added with a shrug, glancing back at Janice, who stood looking at her with concern.
"You've got to watch your temper, Mel," Janice spoke. "Especially now," she added with concern.
"Me?" Mel blurted with an amazed chuckle. "Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?"
"Well this old POT is just trying to help an inexperienced KETTLE so she won't do something she'll regret," Janice responded with annoyance.
"Just because I am NOW capable of expressing my displeasure in a physical form, doesn't mean I'm going to just start smacking everyone around, Janice," Mel relayed indignantly. "Though, I must admit, some people do deserve it," she added, pushing up her glasses and glaring at Richard, who rubbed his neck.
Janice sighed and stepped towards the southerner, placing a hand on Mel's arm, gaining Mel's undivided attention. "You know what it's like to save a life, Mel. I don't want you to ever know what it's like to take one. It's too easy let anger cloud your judgment," Janice informed her. "It's too easy to do something you'll regret," Janice added. "Just. . . be careful."
Mel looked into her friend's serious green eyes, wondering what regrets she was living with. With a slow nod, Mel started to place her hand over Janice's but the archeologist pulled her hand away.
"We ought to get Georg," Janice suggested quickly. ". . . and get out of here," Janice added.
As the two women headed towards the temple, Richard called out.
Sustra grimaced as she threaded the needle. She did not want to do this. But there wasn't much choice.
With a sigh, she squinted to look at the just cleaned wound, which Eponin was helping to keep pressure on.
Staveros quickly put down the bowl of hot water and bloodied cloth and grabbed a candle. Holding it over the area, he received a nod of appreciation from Sustra, who glanced over to the dark corner where the Warrior Princess silently stood. It was if she were elsewhere, Sustra noted with frustration, hoping she'd snap out of it and do this damn stitching . . . . Turning her focus back to the wound, she wondered if it mattered where she began the stitches.
"You know, it's a lot easier causing them then fixing them," Sustra relayed casually.
"That is NOT what I want to hear now," Eponin blurted back. "Do you even know what you're doing?" Eponin snapped.
"Kinda," Sustra responded with a shrug.
"WHAT !?!" Eponin barked.
"Don't worry, I've seen it done before," Sustra informed her.
"Artemis help us," Eponin groaned.
"Everything is UNDER CONTROL. I've got the needle, the thread, and wine over there for me after I'm done. . . ," Sustra rattled on but stopped when their Queen moaned and started to stir.
"She's waking up!" Staveros blurted uneasily.
"Damn it. What do we do? She can't be awake for this can she?" Sustra asked with concern, glancing to Eponin and Staveros.
"I wouldn't want to be," Staveros offered squeamishly.
Gabrielle moaned again and moved more, evoking another painful moan.
The three looked at each other in panic.
"Have her drink this," Xena spoke calmly as she knelt down, with a mug in hand. Her eyes never meeting theirs, not focused on anything in particular.
The three looked at the mug, then Xena.
"What is it?" Sustra asked.
"Something that will knock her out," Xena informed them weakly.
"How do we know it won't kill her," Eponin challenged coldly, then saw the Warrior Princess cringe as if she were struck. That reaction added to Eponin's confusion. She didn't know what to believe. Every action Xena took seemed to contradict her previous one.
"EPONIN! She could have killed her by now if she wanted to . . . " Sustra barked at the dark-haired Amazon, and turned to the stoic Warrior Princess and took the mug.
With that fact she couldn't dispute, Eponin shook her head and sighed, giving up on this current battle.
"Are you sure you don't want to do this?" Sustra asked holding up the needle, asking Xena, who looked to the ground.
"I . . . I can't," Xena admitted with a crack in her voice as tears formed in her eyes.
After a hard ride, Solari finally made it to Amphipolis. Scanning the streets, she quickly spotted a group of Amazons and rode over to them. "Where's Frea?" She asked urgently.
"At the Inn, why?" The Amazon asked with concern. "What. . . ,"
The Amazon's question was never heard by Solari, who immediately raced to the Inn. The concerned Amazons looked at each other, then jogged after her.
Outside the Inn, Solari dismounted quickly. With a few steps, she burst through the swinging doors.
"Frea! Queen Gabrielle been injured," Solari blurted, immediately spotting the elder Amazon.
"Xena knows the healing arts," Cyrene blurted out nervously, glancing over to Toris.
Solari gave an annoyed glance to the Warrior Princess' mother, then looked back to Frea.
"Xena is unable to help her," Solari explained coldly.
"We must go at once!" A young Amazon blurted, causing all the Amazons in the room, except for Frea, to bolt out of their chairs. They shared uneasy looks when the elder Amazon remained still.
"But what happened," Cyrene asked, not sure she really wanted to know. She knew that the only thing that would stop her daughter from helping Gabrielle would be if she was hurt herself . . . or worse.
"Sit down Amazons, we will first listen to Solari's news. . . before acting," Frea blurted with annoyance at the impetuous youth.
"Solari, sit and catch your breath." Frea said with finality. "And tell us what happened," Frea said with a practiced calmness.
All watched as Sustra poured the strong medicine into the groggy bard's mouth, much of it just dribbling to the ground. However, some of the liquid was finally swallowed, and the bard quickly stilled.
Sustra cleaned her hands for a third time, giving her an excuse to delay the stitching of the wound. As she handed the towel back to Staveros, she looked at the bowl of water, debating if she should wash a fourth time. Seeing Eponin glaring at her, Sustra decided it was time to begin and picked up the needle.
Eponin moved her fingers to allow Sustra room to pierce the skin with her needle. Before Sustra plunged her needle in her Queen's flesh Xena spoke numbly. "Start with the muscle first then the skin."
Sustra nodded and swallowed hard. She pushed the needle through the muscle, finding it nauseating. Taking a deep breath as she quickly prayed to Artemis, she started to push the needle through again.
"The stitches need to be closer together, it will help speed up the healing and minimize scarring," Xena added in a detached monotone. As if her betrothed were merely a piece of meat, Eponin thought with irritation as she continued to hold the skin in place.
"Xena, are you sure you . . . ," Sustra asked uneasily, feeling ill. Xena took an uneasy breath and shook her head no.
"She's done enough already Sustra," Eponin blurted.
"For the love of Artemis! Would you just concentrate on this and stop with the cheap shots?" Sustra blurted.
"You're right Sustra, our Queen first," Eponin responded guiltily. "We will deal with the Warrior Princess later," Eponin added coolly.
"We rode to Zemal and saw Bayentes and his men, it looked like he had secured the town," Solari relayed, sipping a mug of water. "When we finally could see what was going on we saw Bayentes' sword fly out of his hand, another soldier's sword get knocked into his head and Queen Gabrielle . . . collapse," Solari relayed, shuttering.
"It happened so fast we didn't realize what happened until the fighting died down," Solari added. "We still can't believe Xena wounded Gabrielle," Solari said is amazement.
"It had to be an accident," the warrior's mother responded automatically.
"The chakrum is her best weapon," Solari countered.
"But my Xena would NEVER hurt Gabrielle," Cyrene blurted in her daughter's defense, her heart dropping.
"Your Xena did," Solari responded simply, looking into the worried mother's eyes. "Badly," Solari added, looking at Frea.
Cyrene cringed with worry, knowing what Xena must be going through now - or what she might go through if Gabrielle's didn't make it.
"Where are they now?" Frea asked.
"Zemal, in a tavern," Solari answered standing up. "It is a day's ride Frea, we shouldn't waste any more time. You need to go to our Queen," she blurted with growing impatience.
"I will go with you Solari," Frea responded as she stood. ". . . but the rest of you stay in Amphipolis," Frea announced to the Amazons, evoking annoyed groans. "There is still an army still out there threatening Amphipolis. Our Queen wanted us here. Our job is not over." Frea added, getting reluctant nods from the women.
"I will ensure you get news of what happens," Frea offered Cyrene, as the Amazon started to leave.
"That won't be necessary," Cyrene said firmly, making Frea's brow furrow curiously.
"I'm going with you," Cyrene added firmly.
"Mother NO!" Toris blurted, moving to his mother's side. "Traveling now is too dangerous," he added.
"Listen to your son, Cyrene," Frea responded.
"I'll go," Toris offered. Cyrene shook her head vigorously.
"No, Toris. Amphipolis needs you here. My girls need me in Zemal," Cyrene blurted fiercely. "I AM going," Cyrene informed Frea, who opened her mouth, then just sighed. She was also a mother.
Sustra sat by Gabrielle, once again cleaning the Queen's wound and applying the medicines Xena told her about. The wound seemed to be responding to the treatment, the Amazon noted, hoping it wasn't just her hopeful imagination. This experience gave her a new appreciation for healers, though she wasn't ready to switch careers yet. She thanked the Gods she was past the stitching, not sure how much longer she could have endured the queasy stomach.
She glanced over to the dark corner of the tavern where Xena stood. The warrior's arms were crossed over her stomach as she stared blankly in their direction. Why wasn't she over here doing this, Sustra kept wondering. She has more experience and she surely would want to help fix the damage she caused, Sustra considered glancing between the bard and warrior. What kept the Warrior Princess at a distance, she questioned. Fear didn't even enter the Amazon's mind.
Eponin slowly walked past Xena, pausing to glare at her.
"Xena," Sustra quickly called out, jumping up from the Queen's side. "I need to talk with Eponin, could you keep an eye on Gabrielle?" Sustra approached them and grabbed Eponin's arm and drug her outside before Xena could respond.
Xena stood uneasily looking at Gabrielle, fighting with her desire to be closer and her fear of doing more harm.
"Eponin, you are NOT helping the situation," Sustra blurted, finally outside with Eponin. She struggled to keep her voice down as the Zemalians and Amazons waiting outside glanced curiously at them.
"Sustra, I do NOT know why you are defending her! She almost killed our QUEEN and she's not lifting a damn finger to help!"
"She got the medicine when Gabrielle was waking up and she helped me through the stitches!" Sustra countered, knowing Eponin and she were far from finishing this conversation.
As she took a few hesitant steps closer to Gabrielle, Xena noted her color was pale from the blood loss. But her wound was healing, no thanks to her, Xena considered with great pain.
A few more steps and she was next to the cot.
Kneeling down, she slowly reached out to stroke the unconscious woman's beautiful hair. But she stopped before touching, pulling her unworthy hand back and stared at it. The hand that threw the chakrum. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath.
"If it wasn't for Sustra, Gabrielle, you'd be dead," she spoke softly, opening her eyes.
"Because of me," she added, the words catching in her throat.
"I knew you'd be safer away from me . . . but you refused to listen," Xena relayed with a tear falling on her cheek. "We got lucky this time, didn't we?" Xena questioned with an unbearable ache.
"But luck runs out, Gabrielle."
"The last thing Xena would ever do is intentionally HURT Gabrielle," Sustra snapped, wondering with great frustration why Eponin couldn't see that.
"But how in Tartarus do you explain her wounding her with the chakrum? She isn't a novice!" Eponin countered.
"NO, she isn't and I can't explain it. But I know she would never EVER hurt Gabrielle deliberately."
"Well, Xena will have her chance to explain what happened to the Amazon council," Eponin informed Sustra coolly.
"What?!? You've gotta be kidding. . . ," Sustra blurted.
"I do not kid about the Queen's safety. You have this romantic notion clouding your vision, but Xena almost killed Gabrielle. I don't know how it happened but it is up to US to find out. It's a matter of our QUEEN's safety."
"Artemis! You act as if she was trying to kill her. She HELPED her! She didn't run . . . she stuck around. Do you think a murderer would do that?"
"Sustra, we've discussed this enough. I don't think we should leave our Queen in Xena's care," Eponin pushed past her and started back into the tavern.
Sustra groaned and begrudgingly followed, shaking her head. Xena would never hurt Gabrielle! Sustra believed that with such unwavering conviction she promised herself to keep telling that to the Council until she turned blue.
Bumping into Eponin, who stopped abruptly, Sustra looked up to see Staveros, alone, at Gabrielle's bedside.
"Where's Xena?" Eponin demanded, glancing around the room.
"She said she needed to go for a long walk," Staveros relayed. Seeing the startled looks on the Amazon faces, he grew nervous. "Why? What's wrong?"
Janice and Mel turned towards Richard.
"Yes Dick?" Janice asked with a thin smile.
"Let's make a deal," Richard blurted anxiously as he quickly got up on his feet, rubbing his neck.
"Is he as ignorant as I think he is?" Mel asked, pushing her glasses up.
"More," Janice responded, getting a thoughtful nod from the southerner and furrowed brow from Dr. Wright.
"I've got some information you might want," Richard offered, hoping to entice the archeologist.
"For what Dick? Some gold?" Janice blurted, with a short laugh.
"I know when to cut my losses Janice, you know that," he responded honestly. "I'm just asking for a head start from the authorities," he added. "I can leave Greece and make a clean start . . . for myself . . . for my family," he blurted with a sincere look on his face.
Janice looked at him a long moment. Mel almost laughed at the line of poppycock he was giving them. She wondered with great amusement what colorful response Janice would provide.
"Go on," Janice relayed patiently, crossing her arms.
That wasn't amusing at all, Mel considered with a furrowed brow and glanced at the archeologist.
"Janice," Mel interjected uneasily. "As your friend, I feel it my duty to remind you of one small point you seem to have forgotten," she said helpfully with a smile. "He BETRAYED you!" She blurted with annoyance.
"It's not the first time, Mel," Janice offered, which didn't make the southerner any happier. Before Mel could say anything, Janice raised her hand to quell any more objections. "I'd like to hear him out," Janice looked at Mel, who sighed and shook her head with amazement.
"Don't you want to know who planned all this?" Richard relayed with a small smile, seeing he had the archeologist's attention.
"So you're too embarrassed to take credit for this fiasco aye, Dick?" Janice said, walking over to a chair and sitting down with a grimace. A nice hot bath and a glass of scotch would really be nice right now, Janice considered wistfully.
"Well, not everyone is as experienced as you in these matters." Richard relayed snidely.
Some people really do need a good smack, Mel considered.
"I suppose not," Janice said coolly.
"So? Do I have your word?" Richard asked.
"Uh. . . Janice?" An uneasy Mel interjected again. "May I PLEASE speak with you a moment?" She asked with her pleasant southern accent a bit strained.
Janice looked up at the tall southerner, who's concerned eyes glared at her before darting over to Richard. "In private," Mel added.
Janice sighed and left the incredibly comfortable chair with a small moan and slowly walked towards the southerner. At least the land was level, the archeologist considered as she walked past Richard. She paused a moment and turned to the man.
"Don't move," Janice instructed Richard, who silently nodded.
Finally far enough away for Mel, she stopped walking. Thank GOD, Janice thought to herself.
"I can't believe you are going to make a deal with him," Mel blurted with soft irritation, quickly glancing towards the traitor.
"I haven't made a deal yet, Mel," Janice countered, rubbing her sore neck.
"He broke the law, betrayed you, and almost got you killed, and you're going to just let him go?" Mel countered heatedly.
"Your point?" Janice asked dryly.
"JANICE!" Mel blurted with exasperation.
"Mel, he's a desperate man who needed some money and wasn't paranoid enough to be a successful smuggler. But I have to give him some credit. A Covington would be an excellent scapegoat if the authorities got wind of this shipment. I still might be. . . "
"Just because your father had some. . . ." Mel argued but paused, looking for the appropriately sensitive words. ". . . questionable business relationships, doesn't mean you . . . "
"The Covington name is what it is for a good reason," Janice informed her, looking to the ground. "I've smuggled Mel, just like good ol' Harry."
"But you're not smuggling this gold, are you?" Mel asked.
"Of course not," Janice responded with irritation. "It's not mine. . . ." Janice added.
"I knew you wouldn't involve me in. . . . " Mel responded with conviction.
"CHRIST Mel, I'm no saint," Janice blurted, looking her in the eye. "The last dig. . . ."
"You smuggled something?" Mel interrupted with surprise.
"Well, the Greek government would have called it that, if I was actually successful," Janice muttered with annoyance. Seeing the questioning look on Mel's face demanding an answer, Janice continued. "I was going to give two of the artifacts we found to a private collector, instead of . . . ," Janice admitted with a sigh.
"The vases I broke?" Mel interrupted with mixed emotions.
"Yeah," Janice responded, then saw sadness reflected in the southerner's eyes. "But Mel, you did me a favor," Janice emphatically relayed.
"By destroying the artifacts?" She asked with confusion.
"When you broke the vases, I lost my backer. . . and it forced me to finally bite the bullet and to work with the University Athens. . . and start building some credibility," Janice informed the southerner who looked a bit confused.
"Mel, I don't want to be considered just another grave robber, like my father. I want to be known as a legitimate archeologist. Continuing a 'questionable business arrangement' with that collector wasn't going to make that happen," Janice explained.
"Janice. . . Not that I'm against your desire to stop breaking the law, which, for the record, I am very much in favor of," Mel informed her crisply. "But when I first met you, you didn't care one iota what people thought. YOU knew you were a legitimate archeologist and THAT was enough. What changed your mind?"
"Maybe I'm growing up?" Janice joked, getting a raised eyebrow from the silently skeptical southerner.
"Well, it really doesn't matter now, considering this little . . . dilemma," Janice relayed, scratching the back of her neck as she glanced back at Richard. "The University took a chance on me, despite my name. Now I'm pretty sure they won't want to touch me with a ten-foot pole, let alone give me another dig, because of all this shi . . . "
"Richard says you were set up by somebody else," Mel interrupted. "Do you really think that's true?"
"Yes," Janice answered simply. "And I'd sure like to know who it was," the archeologist smiled thinly.
"The price of his information seems terribly high, considering everything he's done," Mel blurted with irritation.
"Trust me, Mel, I've received more than my share of second chances," Janice countered softly, looking deeply into the southerner's eyes.
Despite Janice's admissions about breaking the law, Mel knew Janice was far more worthy of second chances than Richard would ever be. Janice had a good heart.
"Well . . . I still don't like it," Mel muttered as she pushed her glasses up, getting a grin out of the archeologist.
"Hey, I didn't say I did either," Janice responded with a shrug, getting a small smile from her friend.
"Ok Dick," Janice informed him as the two women returned from their discussion. "You got your head start," she added, hoping he wouldn't screw up this chance.
"Thank you, Janice," Richard blurted with a huge grin, which faded when he saw the southerner stare at him.
"Who's behind this?" Mel promptly interrogated as Janice sat down with a small grunt.
"Guess," Richard smirked, making Janice shake her head.
"Oh good, he's going to make me BEAT it out of him," Mel smiled, ignoring the sudden and strange urge to poke him in the neck.
"Dr. Maveros," Richard immediately volunteered.
"Of COURSE! I knew something was terribly wrong about her. Anyone THAT unpleasant and ill-mannered . . . ," Mel blurted indignantly then looked over to Janice, who stared at the ground and slowly nodded as the information sank in.
Janice felt like a fool for ever thinking the University would have hired her because she was a good archeologist. It was because of her name, not despite her name, she was hired. Once a grave robber, always a. . . .
"Janice?" Mel asked with concern.
The archeologist lifted her head and focused on Richard.
"So Dick . . . " Janice blurted, standing up and taking a deep breath. "Tell me. How did you get the gold into the crates without anyone noticing . . . ," she asked, slowly walking towards him, the unpleasant pieces of this puzzle falling into place.
"Janice, I don't want to give away all my secrets . . . ," Richard answered uneasily. "All I agreed to was. . . ."
Richard immediately stopped his clarification of their arrangement when Janice pulled out her revolver. She stared at the weapon a moment before focusing on him.
He could have sworn her cold green gaze could see through his wall of words and see the truth.
"Tell me," Janice encouraged him softly. "It must have required some sort of distraction, something . . . big," she added, absently rotating the fluted cylinder, producing slow, unnerving clicks.
"Janice," Mel blurted uneasily as Janice slowly pointed the barrel of her weapon at him.
"You have to earn your second chance, Dick," Janice coolly informed him, ignoring the southerner, whose heart pounded. She had never seen Janice so cold so . . . frightening.
"I. . . . " Richard blurted and froze, until he jumped from the sudden noise as her revolver fired, causing a small explosion of dirt from the ground where the bullet hit.
"TELL ME!" Janice demanded, lifting the barrel of the revolver back up towards him. When the weapon started to shake, Mel wasn't sure if it was from rage or fatigue.
"Janice . . . ," Mel called out nervously, afraid of seeing what her friend warned her about . . . an act of anger she would regret.
"Mel stay OUT of this," Janice snapped. "Talk Dick, you love to hear yourself do it - brag to me about how you got the gold into my crates. . . ."
Richard trembled, desperate enough to look to Mel for help. Mel stood by nervously with wide eyes.
"I . . . I had your hotel set on fire," he finally blurted.
"Dear Lord," Mel gasped and looked to the archeologist, who looked up to the sky a moment before letting out a primal yell as she unloaded three shots into the ground by his feet.
"Janice! PLEASE," Richard pleaded as Mel took a nervous step towards the enraged archeologist.
"I had no idea Aristotle would get hurt," Richard explained nervously, his body shaking.
"Dead is a little more than HURT, you BASTARD!" Janice blurted and fired at his feet again.
Mel took another step towards the archeologist.
"GOD Janice, I. . . He should have been able to get out without any problems . . . For Christ's sake, it was the middle of the afternoon!"
"So it's HIS fault he's dead??" Janice blurted in amazement, shooting at the ground next to his foot again.
"NO! No, I didn't mean that, I just . . . I made a mistake! I didn't think anyone would die . . . Oh God. . . don't kill me," Richard started crying.
"Don't interfere Mel," Janice coldly cautioned the southerner, who was in the middle of taking another step closer to her friend. Mel wanted Janice to look at her, to see the reassurance in Janice's eyes, to know everything would be ok. But Janice didn't look at her. Her gaze was focused on Richard, who whimpered with fear.
Mel reluctantly did as Janice asked, praying to the good Lord Janice wouldn't kill him.
"You're not holding anything back on me are you? Hiding something else??" Janice sneered.
"No . . . no. . . I . . . GOD! Please don't kill me Janice. I'm sorry, for everything," he continued to weep. "I'm sorry . . . ," he added through sobs.
"Go." Janice growled with weary disgust. When Janice dropped her arm and the revolver pointed at the ground, the southerner finally let out the breath she had been holding.
Richard wiped his eyes uneasily, not sure if he heard right.
"If I ever see you again - I'll kill you," Janice promised, eyeing Richard with contempt.
"GO, dammit," she snapped at the stunned man, who wasn't getting out of her life fast enough.
It wasn't until Janice pointed her gun at him again and yelled "RUN," did he take advantage of his second chance. As he ran towards the road, her trembling hand lowered the revolver to her side. Janice closed her eyes and hung her head, drained.
Mel nervously waited a moment before daring to approach the archeologist. She didn't know what to say. All she knew was Janice was hurting and she wanted to help. Stepping closer to her friend, she heard a rustling from the bushes. Her eyes darted to the edge of the clearing, spotting a man with a rifle pointed at them just before a terrifying shot rang out.
The next terrifying sound she heard was the archeologist's revolver drop onto the ground, then Janice.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7