Stranger In A Strange Time by Red Hope

Stranger in a Strange Time
by Red Hope
#1 in the I, Stranger Series

The tall, dark woman glided down the lone hallway but she came to a stop before a wood door. Slowly her full lips spread into a wild grin as she silently opened the heavy door. She slipped into the beautiful bedroom that contained every luxury one could possibly require.

The woman stood in the middle of the room, her black eyes scanning every corner of the room. She now lifted her hands with her palms facing the ceiling. Her eyes drifted shut and she began to chant. When her eyes slowly opened again, she scanned the room again but she was still chanting. Suddenly something caught her attention and her gaze centered on the heavy wood trunk nearby the entrance to the washroom.

The trunk glowed with a brilliant green and there was a usually pulsing hum in the room now.

The woman floated across the room while winding through several chairs and sofas. She loomed over glowing trunk still chanting and she touched the lid. She threw open the lid.

She coldly laughed as her right hand came down and her fingers neatly wrapped around a golden shaft. She lifted the item up from the trunk then she stopped chanting. Immediately the green glow died and the hum died.

The dark woman held the golden scepter vertically with her left hand then she brought her right close to the green stone on the top. “Son of Darkness, show me her only weakness.” Her hand finally met the green stone and the contact caused her to silently scream, her mouth wide open and eyes close.

The woman ripped her hand away but she started laughing. “Yes… yes. She is the one. It is time.” She quickly grasped the stone at the top of the scepter with both her hands and laughed but her vibrating laughed disappeared along with her.

Janice adjusted the bag over her shoulder. She watched as Melinda opened her suitcase on the other side of the tent. “Everything there, sweetheart?”

The southerner jumped at the deep voice. She slammed her suitcase shut and spun around. “Oo my, Janice.” Her hand covered her rapid beating heart.

“Sorry about that.” The archeologist sauntered into the tent and stopped by the foot of the small cot. “Will you be comfortable in here ’til we leave?”

Melinda pushed her black glasses up onto the bridge of her nose. “I reckon so. Thank you.”

Janice nodded then turned around to travel back to the tent flap. She paused and turned her head sidelong. “Thanks for your help back there, Mel.”

The southerner could tell that it was hard for her friend to say that. She offered a gentle smile then replied, “Well it wasn’t exactly me that stopped Ares.”

“No,” considered the archeologist, “it was you.” Without another word, she disappeared out of the tent.

Melinda Pappas let out a frustrated breath because of that gruff woman. She shook her head and reopened her suitcase.

Janice continued through the shrinking camp and went to her tent. She told many of her workers that they could go but some stayed behind. There was still some cleaning up to do before they could leave the site. She finally made it into her tent where she tossed her leather bag onto the cot. When she did that, the worn lash came undone and the items spilled out.

At first passing by glance, Janice didn’t notice anything but then she stopped at the corner of the cot. Her eyes wondered back to the cot and there spread out over the bed was a bunch of junk and no scrolls. “Holy shit!” She scrambled for the bag and turned it upside down.

The waterfall of personal belongings spilled out over the cot. On top of the mountain rolled out a worn out grey teddy bear.

“No,” hotly whispered the archeologist. “I am going to shoot him myself!” She yelled at the top of her lungs. She threw the bag across the tent then rampaged out of the tent into the early evening.

“Janice, what were yah screaming about?” The southerner had taken her blazer and hat off, her midnight hair flowing over her broad shoulders.

Janice almost stumbled in her next step when she saw Melinda outside her tent. She paused then marched over to her friend. “Jack took the damn scrolls!”

“Ooo my,” whispered the translator. “And he’s on his way back to New York City.”

“I know,” yelled the angry archeologist, her hands thrown up in the air. “I am going to kill that nitwit!” She started to stomp off again.

Melinda hastily acted and caught the small woman’s nearest wrist. She hauled Janice back to her. “Janice, wait.” She couldn’t let her friend walk off so angry and upset.

“What?” snapped the other woman. She yanked her wrist free and glowered up at the southern belle. Yet when Melinda recoiled from her hostile attitude, she calmed down. “I’m sorry, Mel. I’m just….”

“I know.” The translator placed her hands gently on leather clad shoulders. “We’ll get the scrolls back.”

The archeologist’s shoulders slightly slumped. “This just… really isn’t my day.”

“Now Janice Covington, don’t you start.” Melinda slightly lowered her head to get a better view of her friend’s face under the brim. “It was a mistake and we’ll get them.” She saw how Janice was settling down so she released the smaller woman. “Besides Jack doesn’t fly out ’til tomorrow afternoon so he ain’t gonna go home with ’em yet.”

“You’re right,” softly agreed Janice. She tilted her head back, her gentle grin showing from under her hat. “Thanks, Mel.”

Melinda’s soft features shined with a smile. She opened her mouth to say more but she faltered when suddenly the wind gusted and her hair lifted up. She turned her head when this odd cracking sound started just off to her right.

“What the hell?” murmured the archeologist. Her right hand instinctively went to her gun on her hip. She didn’t trust anything anymore after today’s events with Ares and Melinda’s body being possessed by Xena.

There were tiny lightening bolts forming about a hundred feet from the pair. The bolts suddenly connected together to make a sphere then a body started to form. There was a bright flash of green that made Janice and Melinda shield their eyes.

Melinda gasped when there was a mysterious, dark woman standing before them with a golden scepter. Her eyes were instantly caught by the beautiful green stone that was held at the top of the scepter.

“Stay behind me, Mel,” ordered the archeologist, who stepped in front of her friend. She neatly flipped the thin leather snap that held her gun in its holster. She tightly gripped the revolver for dear life because she could tell this would not be good. She suddenly shivered when the strange woman showed a ruthless smile at them. “Who the hell are you?”

“I think you should be more concerned with what I am,” taunted the dark woman. She started for them with the scepter in her right hand.

“Stay back,” warned Janice, “I’ve already had a bad day.” She quickly pulled out her gun and aimed. “Do not fuck with me.”

The dark stranger stopped but her smirk was never gone.

Janice felt now that she had the upper hand yet she cocked her revolve just to be sure.

The dark woman’s chest shook with a silent laugh and she tilted her head as her eyes focused on the small woman.

Melinda quickly sensed something was about to happen. “Janice!” She moved so fast and shoved her friend as hard as she could.

Janice yelled as she went flying then skidded into the sand. Her ears rang with Melinda’s heart wrenching scream. She hastily jumped to her feet to see Melinda hunched over in absolutely pain yet nothing seemed to be causing it. Her head whipped around towards the strange woman and Janice knew she was the cause of it. She took aim with her gun.

The dark woman straightened up then her left hand shot out in Janice’s direction. “Ah-ah-aaah.”

The pain raced through Janice’s arm as her vision filled with a scene of a man bringing an axe down at her right hand. She could still feel her hand but the pain was immense.

The dark woman’s lips curled into a deeper grin. She slowly walked towards the screaming archeologist, her eyes only for the archeologist. “My you’re the spitting image,” she murmured. She stretched out her left hand and clawed the air.

Janice rolled onto her back and screamed even louder. Her chest felt as if it was on fire. All she could see was her body being burnt as she was lashed up on a wood cross.

Melinda shook her head some but she forced her body up. Janice’s screams urged her forward and she straightened up.

The dark woman turned her head to see Melinda up again. “You never stay down.” Her eyes went to slits when very feral blue ones burned her.

Melinda disappeared in a blur of motion. She followed her body’s instincts as she did an amazing jump and landed a few feet from her opponent. She gave a piercing cry and did a perfect kick.

The dark woman yelled as she went reeling through the air and landed hard onto her back.

Melinda softly moaned and shook her head. She raced to Janice’s side and bent down next her. “Janice, come on.”

Janice was curled up and moaning but the burning was receding. The archeologist’s hazy green eyes opened finally and her fingers clawed at her distant gun. She grabbed it then pulled herself up.

Melinda helped her but she turned her head just in time to see their enemy getting to her feet. “We have to stop her.”

“I don’t know how,” whispered the scared archeologist. “But I doubt she’s bullet proof… if I could get a clear shot.”

The translator saw that the dark woman was coming towards them. “I’ll distract her.” Despite Janice’s yell of protest, she broke out into a run for her opponent.

Janice wiped the blood from the corner of her right lip. “I need to focus.” She lifted her gun, took aim, and willed her nerves to settle as her hands were shaking. She watched in amazement as Melinda tried to attack.

Melinda threw a punch and heard the snap of bone under her fist.

The woman stumbled back but her wild black eyes centered on the southerner. “Enough!” She threw out her arms.

Melinda cried out in pain as she was lifted into the air by nothing. Her arms were forced out horizontally and her legs were slammed together.

Janice’s stomach dropped. She was dazed by how Melinda floated in midair with her arms out as if she hung from an imaginary cross. Then her heart broke when Melinda dropped her head back and a terrifying scream erupted from her lips. “No,” she whispered hotly, “that bitch.” She refocused on her task at hand. She had a clear shot of her enemy now.

Melinda was released and she collapsed to the ground in agony. She’d never felt so much pain in her life before as her legs felt now. Her eyes were full of tears and she clenched at her mangled legs.

The dark woman stepped over the fallen Melinda. Her gaze met Janice’s. “You are mine!” She lifted the scepter and pointed the green stone at the archeologist.

Janice’s eyes widened when the green stone emitted a bright glow. She instantly pulled on the trigger but she screamed when the bright green light hit her. Her scream was quickly cut off.

Melinda whimpered but she opened her eyes. She let go of her legs the forced her body up with her hands. She twisted her head every which way but the woman was gone, and so was Janice. “No,” she fearfully whispered. “Janice!” Melinda became hysterical as she clawed across the sandy ground. She could not walk since every bone in her leg was broken. She finally made it to the one item that was the only remnants of Janice. Melinda tangled her fingers through Janice’s whip, the same whip that had saved them earlier today. “No,” she agonized, “Janice.”

Janice’s cry exploded loudly again. She plunged to the ground, her head hitting soft grass.

The dark woman with the scepter materialized but she gasped when something unexpectedly hit her right shoulder. She growled then fell to one knee, hunched over, and gasping for air. She released the golden scepter and with her right hand she inspected the wound in her left shoulder. She was actually shaken by the unexpected pain and how it could have happened. Her wound was merely a small circular opening but the pain was strong.

The woman snatched the scepter up and lifted her head. She slightly grinned at seeing Janice passed out but her enthusiasm was short lived for her shoulder ached badly. With labored breathing, she touched the green stone and disappeared without a trace.

Janice moaned softly and when she lifted her head, her vision swam with green, brown, and blue. She tried to get up using her hands but she was too weak. “Mel,” she desperately breathed. But the strain on her body was so great and she fell back to the ground in a heap. The darkness claimed her again.

“Hurry! W e have to figure… figure out where that scream… came from!” She waved on her two companions.

“Wait up, Solari!”

The Amazon didn’t wait though and kept running faster through the forest behind her were her two closest friends; Ephiny and Eponin.

Ephiny growled because her friend would not listen. She tried to push her body faster so that she would catch up but nobody was as fast as Solari.

Solari jumped over a low bush and nearly lost her mask on her head. She didn’t care as she came to a screeching stop. “Sweet Artemis.” She remained still and transfixed.

Ephiny and Eponin came around the bush then made a dead stop next to the other Amazon.

“Who is he… she… or what?” Ephiny was utterly confused.

“I don’t know,” answered Eponin.

Solari shook off her astonishment and carefully approached the huddled form on the ground. “It’s definitely a female,” she reported to her friends.

“Solari, be careful.” Ephiny was worried but she also neared the slumped body.

Eponin reached behind and extracted her sword just in case. She followed behind her friends.

Solari kneeled down next to the female. Very cautiously she stretched her hand out and pressed her fingertips against the woman’s throat. She could tell just by her warmth that she was alive but she also felt the pulse. “She’s alive… whoever she is.”

Ephiny stood next to her friend while Eponin was off to the side.

Solari picked up the funny looking brown thing that was covering the woman’s face.

“I’ve never seen clothes like that before,” brought up Eponin.

Ephiny’s eyes flickered over to Eponin then back to the sleeping form.

“By the gods, I’ve seen her before!” Solari dropped the odd brown thing when the blonde’s face registered in her mind. “But it’s impossible.”

“What?” Ephiny’s tone was urgent.

Solari lifted her head to Ephiny. “You saw her, remember? That rebel girl that spoke out against the Conqueror and was sentenced to the cross. It was only five days ago… in Corinth.”

“That is impossible.” Eponin now sheathed her sword. She also came over to them.

Ephiny slowly knelt down and carefully studied the blonde’s face. “If this is her then how did she get off that cross?”

“And how did she get here?” added Eponin, her hands on her hips and staring at the mysterious woman.

Solari grabbed her mask on her head, repositioning it properly. “Most importantly, why is she here of all places and completely banged up?”

The three Amazons gazed at one another in confusion and curiosity. Suddenly their attention was drawn down to the stranger that let out a faint groan but never stirred anymore.
Chapter 1 – Introductions

Slowly she released a soft groan; her hand touched her lightly pounding head. She quickly realized her hand against her forehead was bandaged without even opening her eyes. This seemed to remind her of her earlier predicament and she shot up into a sitting position on the hard surface she was resting on.

Janice sucked in a deep breath against the pain all over her chest and stomach but then her eyes widened. Just about twenty feet away from where she rested were two tall women in leathers, masks on their heads, and swords at their sides. “Holy shit,” she wheezed in between the pain. “Who are you?”

The seeming guards turned heads to each other. One signaled the other and she opened the door then marched out into the next room.

The archeologist knew she wasn’t going to get any answers from the guards. Instead she took a moment to absorb where she was, which certainly wasn’t the campsite. The room was rather small and the only other piece of furniture in the room beside her hard wood bed was a wood chair to her right along with a table. The table was covered by bowls, rags, and some type of plant. Finally she lowered her gaze to her body because she sensed it was hard to move her upper body.

Starting from Janice’s lower stomach all the way up to the top of her chest she was bandaged up. She still had her pants on but her hat, shirt, jacket, and boots with socks were gone. That also meant her gun was missing, which didn’t settle well with her. Suddenly her musing was cut short when that guard returned but with two other women.

Janice was absolutely dazed by the unfamiliar women. She never seen something like this as they all wore leathers, bare stomach, and carried swords. She was quite curious about their masks they had on as her educational mind ran through the possibilities. The only possibility that came to her was also an impossible one.

The two women came to Janice’s right side. The one closest had rich brown eyes and her hair was longer than Janice plus much blonder. The second woman behind the first had curly dirty-blond hair, lighter amber eyes, and one stone cold expression.

“I am Queen Cyane of the Amazons,” started the closest woman.

Janice blinked at the title of queen. Queen of the Amazons? Her impossible theory was being easily confirmed and her heart began to pound against her chest.

The woman, Cyane, could tell the stranger was uneasy. She held her hand out to the other woman beside her. “This is Ephiny… she was one of the Amazons that found you.”

There, she said Amazon again, thought Janice. She moaned as her head fell forward into her bandaged right hand. This could not be real, debated Janice but Cyane’s gentle voice pulled her back.

“Do you need the healer?” offered Cyane, who was nearing the pallet some.

“No,” finally spoke up Janice, “I’m fine.” She lifted her head again and gazed at the Amazon Queen. “The name’s Janice Covington.”

Queen Cyane straightened up at hearing the name. She found it peculiar to hear the stranger say two names. She deduced she must be Roman as many Romans had two names and she knew the name Janice was also Roman heritage. She decided to leave that alone for now. “We found you within our borders about four days ago. You’ve been unconscious since then.”

The archeologist remained quiet as she tried to process everything that was happening to her. She pushed herself up better on the pallet even though it was painful.

“Do you remember what happened?” queried the queen.

Ephiny shifted her stance, her steely eyes on the stranger. She didn’t trust anybody and especially this odd woman. With how the known-world was today, nobody was ever honest.

Janice sighed and ran her left hand through her messy bangs. “Some. Its confusing enough to me but it’ll be beyond you.”

“Try us,” interrupted Ephiny.

Janice’s eyes narrowed at the Amazon’s clipped tone and attitude. She bit back a harsh retort because she knew she was at the mercy of these people, besides they’d already been giving hosts.

“Ephiny,” gently warned the queen. “Let her speak.” She returned her focus to the small woman on the pallet.

Janice noticed how Ephiny backed off. She returned to the Amazon Queen. She noted the leather headband that Cyane bore, which had strange markings on it. Janice could tell they were Greek letters but she couldn’t translate it and she cursed herself for not knowing Greek syntax better. She knew if Melinda was here that she’d know exactly what that headband said without even thinking about it.

“Tell me what happened,” tried the queen again.

Janice broke from her thinking. She cleared her throat then signaled the chair near Ephiny with her chin. “You might need to sit for this.”

The queen agreed and Ephiny gave her the chair.

Janice waited for the Amazon Queen to get settled then she tried to think of the best place to start. “Before I ended up here I was in the town of….” Her mind quickly worked to recall the ancient town’s name. “Trachis.”

“That is only two candlemarks of a ride from here,” mentioned Ephiny.

The archeologist tried to decipher the length of a candlemark would be. She had no idea but she did know it couldn’t be too far. So she was in Greece but obviously it wasn’t 1949 anymore.

“What were you doing in Trachis?” asked the queen.

“Well that’s where it gets confusing.” At seeing the queen’s narrowing eyes, Janice hastily added, “And interesting.”

Queen Cyane nodded. “Go on.”

“This is going to sound really insane but….” Janice paused to try and thinking about how to put this carefully. She figured there was real no way. “I’m from the future and I don’t mean the near future but distant future.”

Cyane blinked and stared Janice as if she were Medusa.

Ephiny snorted. “My queen, she’s high on henbane.”

One of the guards by the door snickered.

Janice ticked one of her back molars with her tongue. She did not like this Ephiny Amazon what so ever.

Cyane twisted in her chair and looked at the Amazon. “And do you have a better explanation for her clothes and that metal thing she had?”

Ephiny sighed but said nothing else.

The queen turned back to the stranger.

Janice slightly perked up at hearing something about her metal thing, her gun. She tried not to show it because she knew it would tip these women off.

“Okay so you’re from the future… if this is true how did you get here?”

The archeologist sighed while folding her hands in her lap. “I’m not exactly sure.” Her eyes stared at her left hand, which was fine while her right hand was covered. She lifted her head and looked at the Amazon Queen. “I’m an archeologist from my time.”

“Ar…arch-eolo-gist,” tried Cyane. At Janice’s nod, she asked, “What’s an archeologist?”

“It somebody that researches history,” explained the small woman, “especially by well… digging through the ground.” She slightly grinned at her plain definition of her job. “I’m particularly interested in Ancient Greek history.”

The queen leaned back in her chair and thoughtfully stared at this strange woman. She wasn’t sure what to make of the story so far but she would hear it out. “So you were in Trachis digging up Greek history in the future,” summarized the patient queen.

Janice nodded. Her eyes briefly flickered to Ephiny, who was rolling her eyes but kept quiet. “My… friend and I just finished up a dig there when something strange happened.”

“You turned into a man?”

Cyane growled at Ephiny for her smartass remark. “Ephiny, be silent.”

Janice’s expression was dark at Ephiny. “No, I dug up your grave and fuckin’ desecrated it.”

Ephiny’s temper reared up and she stepped forward with her hand moving behind her back.

Cyane made a hidden signal.

The closest guard drew her sword faster and stepped up to Ephiny.

Ephiny became still, her hand on her sword hilt, and her eyes borrowing into Janice.

Janice held her ground, her green eyes flashing with every promise to beat Ephiny if she touched her.

“Step back, Ephiny,” coldly ordered the queen. “Or else get out. I’ve had enough.”

The Amazon in question released her hilt, lowered her arm to her side, and backed away from looming over Janice.

The guard resheathed her sword and returned to her post.

“I apologize,” offered Cyane. “You were saying.”

Janice released her anxiety and focused on Cyane. “Some robed woman appeared in front of me and my friend. She was after me personally but we fought her. We couldn’t stop her… she was able to force pain on us without even touching us.”

Cyane now had an explanation of the wounds the small woman suffered. Although she found the burn marks a bit odd if they were in combat.

“The woman had some golden staff,” explained Janice, her eyes fuzzy. “It had a large green stone on the top that glowed.”

Ephiny’s brow was taut as her mind raced through memories of such a scepter. For some reason it struck a cord.

“What did this woman look like?” Cyane’s voice was gentle but very curious.

Janice shook her head. “Tall… just under six feet.” At seeing Cyane’s confusion of height she tried to reformulate how to explain the height. Her eyes quickly scanned the room and rested on the guard to the left. “Just taller than her.”

Cyane glanced at the Amazon.

The tall Amazon cleared her throat but stayed silent.

Janice looked back at the queen. “She had black hair and her eyes were almost black.”

“She didn’t say who she was?”

The archeologist moved her head in a no. “Her voice was unusual though… it was scratchy and deep.” Like she’d been smoking too many cigarettes in her life, thought Janice, not that they exist right now.

“You said she had a gold scepter with a green stone?”

Janice was surprised by Ephiny’s voice. She only nodded her answer.

“My queen, when I was in Corinth I saw such a scepter.”

Cyane peered up at her Amazon. “The Conqueror’s?”

“Yes.” Ephiny folded her arms across her chest. “The Conqueror’s scepter in the hands of a tall, dark woman, who is a shaman?”

Cyane’s eyes went black for the first time. “Alti,” she seethed in a hate driven voice.

Janice easily picked out that Cyane had some long history with this Alti woman. Even the name made Janice’s skin crawl. “Who is Alti?” She then recalled they’d said Conqueror. “And who’s the Conqueror? Julius Caesar?”

Cyane huffed then replied, “Julius Caesar would be a blessing compared to the Conqueror.”

“Then who’s the Conqueror?” Janice’s mind was reeling with possibilities on who it was then another name hit her. “Alexander?”

Ephiny snorted from behind. “Long live Alexander… if only.” Her expression was full of remorse.

Janice was lost now. She looked to the Amazon Queen for help.

“The Conqueror is….” Cyane stopped because to this day she had a hard time choking out the name. She clamped down on her old emotions. “Xena… the Warrior Princess,” she whispered as if speaking the ruler’s name was a sin.

The color washed away from Janice’s face and she tried to desperately grasp what was happening. She suddenly wondered if Melinda’s idea about fainting wasn’t a good one. She moaned as her hands covered her face. “My god… this can’t be right.”

The Amazon Queen watched the archeologist tried to handle the situation. She could tell the small woman was genuinely shocked, which told her that maybe Janice was being honest. Everybody knew who the Conqueror was and everybody feared her, almost.

“Janice,” tried the queen.

The archeologist forced her mind out of her racing thoughts.

“I believe you did face Alti,” started the queen, “but I don’t completely believe you’re from the future or… anything of the sort.” She tilted her head. “And not because it’s not impossible… I’ve seen stranger things in my time. But….” She signaled to Ephiny to finally speak.

Ephiny took a step forward. “The problem is that nine days ago I saw you in Corinth.” Her expression wasn’t teasing or even demeaning but stone cold. “It is possible for somebody to get here from Corinth in that time but it’s impossible for you to do it.” She stepped forward again, lowered her hands to the edge of the pallet, and leaned towards the strawberry-blond. “You were sentenced by the Conqueror to the cross and your legs were shattered.” Her eyes stayed locked on Janice’s. “I remember your scream.”

Quickly a vision flooded Janice’s mind of a powerful swinging mallet almost connecting to her ankles. It never struck her in the vision as the vision was originally disrupted by Melinda saving her from Alti.

Ephiny could tell the small woman wasn’t offering anything. She tilted her head some. “Your name isn’t even Janice is it? Its Gabrielle… you’re the rebel leader everybody talks about but nobody sees…until now.”

“Gabrielle?” murmured the archeologist. Her eyes widened at the realization that not only did Xena exist here but so did her ancestor. It made perfect sense. “I’m not Gabrielle but I know who Gabrielle is,” she argued.

“Your twin sister?” chided Ephiny with a snort.

Cyane was carefully listening to the interrogation.

Janice showed her best smirk. “No but close enough.” She gave a challenging look as she stated, “Actually she’s my ancestor.”

Ephiny opened her mouth to refute it but Janice’s explanation sunk in. She didn’t know what to say or do so she merely straightened up to her full height again.

Cyane took this as her opening. “Just how far in the future are you?”

Janice folded her arms against her patched up chest. “Roughly two thousand two hundred years… give or take a hundred years.”

The Amazon Queen was baffled by how far in the future that meant but she was still intelligent about this. She knew whatever time Janice came from it was beyond her comprehension and it meant that Alti had very precise plans.

“Besides,” cut in Janice, “If I was Gabrielle how come my legs aren’t shattered?” Her question fell on Ephiny.

The Amazon huffed, folded her arms, and had no answer.

Queen Cyane suddenly rose up to her formidable stature. “There are many things I must think about, Janice before I can decide what’s going on here.” She rested her hands on her hips now. “Until then, you will remain here and when the healer says you’re well enough you may take a guest hut.” She saw the narrowing of Janice’s eyes. “You’re not a prisoner here,” she explained, “however I’d like to know what’s happening. It sounds as if you don’t have anywhere else to go.”

The archeologist sighed because she knew the Amazon Queen was right.

“You’ll be safe here,” stated the queen. “Until then get some rest and recover.” She considered something then looked at Ephiny and back to Janice. “If you need anything, Ephiny will be here to help you.”

Ephiny’s mouth quickly opened.

Cyane knew it too but she cut her off. “Ephiny is quite competent as an Amazon and despite things, she’s very helpful.”

Ephiny snapped her mouth closed because she couldn’t argue when the queen just complimented her.

Janice chewed on the inside of her mouth. She really disliked this but she didn’t have much choice either. “Thank you….” She silently cleared her throat. “Queen Cyane.” She never thought she’d hear those words come from her mouth.

“You are welcome.” Cyane stepped away and went to the door but she gazed back. She noted Ephiny was planted in place, most likely to see if Janice needed anything. She nodded her head at Ephiny then turned around.

Janice studied the queen’s backside. Something caught her eye, which was the defining scar on Cyane’s lower left back. She’d seen a similar scar on the front side too and it had an interesting round shape.

The Amazon Queen vanished into the main part of the healer’s hut.

Ephiny saw the guards at the open door and she said, “You can take a break if you’d like.”

The two guards exchanged looks then made a silent agreement so they walked out with the door closing.

Janice made eye contact with Ephiny once they were gone. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

Ephiny’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know… but I do know I trust you as far as I can throw you.”

The archeologist slightly grinned at this. “Well at least we’re finally in agreement about something.”

The Amazon glowered at the chatty woman. She then was remotely surprised when Janice started to move around. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Janice slid her sore legs off the pallet and touched the floor with her bare feet. “What’s it look like, Sherlock?” Her back was to Ephiny but her head was sidelong. “Wait… you don’t know who Sherlock is.” She chuckled to herself.

Ephiny ignored the remark and walked to the other side of the pallet. “The queen ordered you to stay here.”

“Now what fun would that be?” Janice forced her aching, sore body off the pallet. She straightened up to her full yet short height and her head swooned from the movement. She moaned and stumbled some.

Ephiny quickly moved and caught the woman before she collapsed or bumped into anything. “Get back on the pallet.”

The archeologist pushed her dizziness aside. “No.” Her eyes met Ephiny’s. “I’ve been on there for four days. I need out.” She stepped around the taller woman and went for the door.

The Amazon was fast and stood between the short woman and the door. “I can’t let you go,” she hotly stated.

Janice put her hands on her hips and stared down the woman. “What you going to do? Wrestle me onto the pallet?”

“I will if you don’t.” Ephiny held her hands up in demonstration.

The archeologist grunted. “I’d love to hear you explain this to your queen about why I’m even more injured.” She wagged her index finger at the Amazon. “Tsk, tsk… you have to be sweet to your guests.”

Ephiny’s amber eyes went into slits. She knew she was losing this battle so she relaxed her hands at her sides again. “Fine. If you’re so damn pigheaded about this then at least get dressed.”

Janice held out her arms while saying, “If I knew where the rest of my clothes were I would love to.”

The Amazon sighed then ordered, “Stay here… I’ll get them.” She slipped out of the room to hunt down Janice’s clothes.

Janice though went to the pallet again and sat on the foot of it. She took the quiet time to check her wounds but pulling the bandaged away from her body. She peered down between her cleavage to get a view of her stomach. She was surprised to see her stomach was definitely burnt but the burns weren’t too bad. She picked out the scent of some medicine but she wasn’t sure what it was since she wasn’t too familiar with them. She then lifted her right hand and unwrapped it some. She instantly regretted it with a cringe at seeing so many deep cuts on the top of her hand. She picked out some stitches too that seemed to be well done.

Janice was shaking her head while wrapping her hand back up. “I can’t wait to see that bitch again.” She knew she would too and when she did she’d make sure Alti paid for this, especially Melinda. She sighed at the thought of Melinda but she was pulled out of her reverie when Ephiny returned and with another Amazon.

“This is our healer, Eilis.”

The healer smiled at seeing her patient up and moving. “I hear you wish to leave the hut.”

Janice nodded. “I need to move around.”

“I understand.” Eilis looked to Ephiny. “Why don’t you wait outside? Leave her things on the chair too.”

The Amazon went to the chair and placed the boots down first then piled the clothes on top. She silently left the room.

Eilis was an older Amazon but she seemed quite nice Janice noticed. Eilis first went to the table and fiddled with all of the items. “Your burns will probably not take as long as those cuts on your hand.” She found what she was looking for and picked up a clay bowl with white paste in it. “I’ll need to take off your bandaging and put more of the salve on.”

The archeologist was skeptic about revealing her body to the healer but she knew too she wasn’t in any position to refuse.

“Don’t worry.” Eilis chuckled. “I’ve see it all plenty of times.”

Janice rolled her eyes despite she couldn’t help the grin. “Alright.” She slid off the pallet and Eilis helped her unravel the seeming endless bandage.

“How do you feel?”

“A bit shaky and sore.”

The healer nodded as she placed the wrap down on the pallet next to the salve. She dipped her fingers into the salve and put a thick coating over her hands. “I suggest you ask Ephiny to take you to the dining hut then.” She came behind Janice and began liberally yet carefully rubbing the balm into the red skin.

“What is that stuff you’re putting on me?” inquired the stranger.

Eilis smiled and replied, “It’s a balm mixed with Acacia Nut… its rare actually… from Egypt. The Acacia helps properly heal burns and hopefully you won’t have any marks left.” She dipped her fingers back in the balm before ordering, “Turn around.”

Janice hesitated but she faced the woman but with her eyes closed.

The old Amazon smirked and didn’t say anything about it. Instead she busied herself with getting the balm over Janice’s chest, upper breasts, and her stomach. “You really have a fair colored stomach.”

Janice blushed then cleared her throat. “Are you finished?”

The healer quietly laughed. “Yes, turn around and I’ll bandage you back up.” She quickly worked to wrap Janice back up but it wasn’t exactly a fast process. “You have a usual accent by the way.”

“It’s Yankee.”

Eilis was clearly confused but she decided it was easier not to ask. “I’ll check your hand later when you come back.”

“Ooo no.” The archeologist faced the healer. “There’s no way in Hell I’m sleeping on that bad excuse for a bed again. It’s probably why I’m so goddamn sore anyway.”

Eilis stood still, her hands on her hips, and her head bent. “I meant for a check up.”

Janice blinked then her defensive demeanor dropped. “Oh.”

“You can stay in a guest hut but I want you to come by each night and morning until you get a bill of perfection from me.”

Janice stepped around the Amazon with a grunt. “That’ll be neva then.”

The healer went to the door but paused. “See that you stop back here tonight, Janice. I can tell you’re a stubborn one.”

Janice shot a devilish smile at the healer. “I will… thank you.”

The Amazon nodded then quietly left Janice alone.

The archeologist took a few minutes to get ready even though it was painful process. It was especially hard for her to get her boots on then lace them up. Her hand hurt too much while curling her stomach as she was bent over was also excruciating. She finally straightened up with her booted foot hitting the floor. She whipped her belt off the seat and laced it through the loops very slowly but she didn’t buckle it. Janice was beginning to feel more herself and in control merely from having her clothes back.

The last part was her shirt, which she shrugged on and button by button she seemed to feel more alive. All she needed, in her mind, was her gun and she could beat any of this hocus pocus going on today. After she had her shirt tucked in, she buttoned her pants up and buckled her belt perfectly. Janice went to the door and grabbed the large handle but it took a lot of effort to get the heavy door open. So maybe she wasn’t in perfect, prime condition like she thought but it was better.

The healer lifted her head from her scrollwork at her desk and said, “Ephiny is just outside.” She signaled the door straight ahead.

“Thanks.” Janice wanted to tip her hat to the Amazon but she was missing that piece of article along with her jacket. And that gun, that damn gun she grumbled inwardly.

Ephiny twisted her head up when the short but glowing woman stood at the top of the steps to the healer’s hut. She took a heartbeat to adjust to the dress style despite she’d already seen Janice in these clothes.

Janice stomped down the wood steps with her heavy boots. She grinned at the Amazon. “Where to?”

Ephiny blew at a loose piece of curly hair on her forehead. “Dining hut,” she clipped.

The archeologist enjoyed Ephiny’s annoyance at having to baby sit her. At first it hadn’t sat well with her that Ephiny was her keeper but now she realized this could be a lot of fun.

“This way.” The Amazon headed off in the direction of the dining hut. As they traveled across the village, she noticed two things. First was that Janice was engrossed in her surroundings and taking in every detail. And second, well every passerby Amazon was just as curious about Janice. Ephiny was wondering if they would have a trail of Amazons following them but luckily not.

Janice turned her head to Ephiny. “I see there are a lot of guys here.”

Ephiny narrowed her eyes at the small woman. “I guess you missed out on your history about Amazons huh?”

The archeologist actually knew quite a bit about them. She smirked. “In my time, the Amazons are just myths… stories about women running around with arrows and axes… and no left breast.”

The Amazon came to a dead stop and faced the stranger. “I happen to not be a myth.” She then bent her head down closer. “And I have both my breasts.”

Janice slowly smiled at the annoyed Amazon. “I can see this.”

Ephiny sighed dramatically, rolled her eyes, and continued onward. She mumbled something under her breath though.

Janice was smug and thoroughly enjoying this. She was a master at getting people’s goads and she couldn’t resist Ephiny’s. “So there are never any men here?” She already knew the answer though but she liked playing dumb.

“Not unless they’re guests otherwise no.” Ephiny now took on a proud tone as she spoke. For some reason, she decided Janice required a real history lesson. “It’s a man’s world right now and not because it should be but because we let them. The Amazon world is based on truth, on a woman’s individual strength.”

Janice licked her lips as she listened to Ephiny. Her eyes darkened a shade and just glowed with mischief. “Damn right, Eph.” She curiously looked up at the Amazon. “You don’t mind Eph do you?” Just as Ephiny was about to snap out her harsh answer, she cut in, “Great. I like it too.” She then suddenly stopped.

The Amazon went a few steps further but did an about face.

“You know, you’re right.” Janice put her hands on her hips. “It’s even a man’s world in my time period too. I’m all for the Amazon… thing. You know, I consider myself a single-minded woman.”

Ephiny rolled her eyes.

“I would become an Amazon,” proudly stated the archeologist.

“Ooo sweet Artemis,” moaned Ephiny.

Janice thoughtfully weighed this then stated, “But I think first I’d ask my husband if it’s okay.”

Ephiny’s expression darkened and she menacingly stepped towards the stranger.

Janice laughed and jumped back with her hands up in defense. “Now Eph, you don’t want to do anything silly.” Her teasing voice wasn’t helping Ephiny decide though. “It was just a joke.”

Ephiny stepped closer though and lifted her right hand then fisted it. “I could just….” She furiously growled and spun around then marched off.

Janice happily snickered to herself. What other fun could she have with this Amazon? It was almost too easy to toy with her keeper. She hurried after Ephiny while muttering, “I guess being an Amazon wouldn’t do me much good in my time though.”

Ephiny had a furrowed brow. “Why’s that?”

The archeologist smiled up at the Amazon. “They don’t exist anymore.”

The Amazon was losing her patience very quickly. She grounded her teeth but kept silent knowing that was the safest bet to keeping her last wits. She finally came to the food hut and ducked into the entrance.

Janice senses were suddenly taking in the wonderful smell of food. Her stomach agreed with a rumble.

Ephiny stared at the small woman’s talkative stomach. “I can’t believe it’s as loud as you.”

“Ha… real funny, Eph.” Janice stepped past the Amazon and went for the food line.

Ephiny turned on the balls of her feet and watched her go. “I hate that nickname,” she complained but followed after her charge.

The archeologist got inline next to an Amazon, who was looking her up and down. So Janice just smiled and played along like she did this everyday. She had no problem figuring out how the buffet line worked since it was much like home. She’d easily collected a wood plate and scooted down the line.

Ephiny yanked a plate from the stack and trudged behind the stranger.

Finally the pair had their meals and went to an empty table. Janice was on one side while Ephiny sat across from her. Ephiny quietly ate but she noted how Janice started out by inspecting her food curiously.

“Got any pepper?” complained the small woman.

The Amazon started at Janice like she was stupid.

Janice couldn’t help her laugh now because the look wasn’t very becoming of Ephiny. She shook her head with a few more laughs and poking her food with her fork.

After a little bit, Ephiny sensed somebody coming up to her side and she gazed up with her neck bent around.

“Hey, Ephiny.” Solari smiled at her friend then her eyes trailed over to the stranger. “I see she’s up and moving.”

“And annoying too,” complained the frustrated Amazon.

“It’s not polite to speak about somebody in third person when they’re here,” butted in Janice.

Solari greeted Janice with her best smile. “Hi.” She stepped around and held out her arm. “I’m Solari.”

Janice prepared to clasp the new Amazon’s hand but instead ended up with her whole forearm. She was momentarily shocked but recovered quickly by shaking arms. “I’m Janice… Janice Covington.”

“Ooo are you Roman?” At seeing the small woman’s perplexed look Solari explained, “Romans have two names typically.”

The archeologist grinned as her arm was released but she remained twisted around and head back. “No, I’m a cold blooded American.” She knew Solari would have no clue what that meant but that was okay. At least she was being honest.

Solari’s lips puckered as she tried to understand. “I see.” She glanced at Ephiny for help but received none. “Is that east or west of Greece?”

Janice tried to remain very serious. “Very west of here.”

“Oh.” Solari pretty well knew the kingdoms west of Greece and Rome but America did not ring any bells for her. She cleared her throat as she felt uneasy.

“Solari,” interrupted Ephiny, “Janice here says she’s from the future.”

Solari’s eyes widened at Ephiny then she too stared at Janice like she was Medusa.

“What the Hell is with that look today!” complained the agitated stranger.

Solari chuckled at the woman then said, “So you’re from the future huh?”

“Sure am, sweetheart.” Janice brought out her best, winning smile.

Solari’s lips curled into a grin. “Well this I have to hear so don’t move. I’ll need a few drinks for this.” She laughed and dashed off to the food line.

Janice turned in her seat and saw Ephiny shaking her head uncontrollably. “What? You don’t like losing out on the attention from your friend?”

Ephiny snorted and shot a glare. “Hardly.” She then felt some of her tension dissolve when Solari took a seat by her.

Solari wiggled into her seat and got comfortable. She brushed back her brown hair and took a healthy drink of her diluted wine first. “Okay, so fill me in.” She heard the unnecessary sigh from her friend but she ignored it like Janice. She carefully listened to Janice weave an amazing and unbelievable tale about how she arrived here in their borders.

When Janice finished her story, she felt relieved to get it out. Each time she went over the story, she seemed to get a clearer idea of what was happening but she still didn’t have her questions for the answers.

“So you research history in your time?” Solari played with her mug. “That’s what an archeologist does?”

“Yes,” replied the archeologist in question. “My specialty is Ancient Greece… or other words this time right now.”

Solari chuckled but gave a devilish grin. “Really? Okay… let’s see.” She narrowed her eyes playfully at the small woman. “What you know about the Amazons?”

Ephiny smirked at Janice. “Yeah, what do you know?”

Janice licked her lips and puckered them out as if she really had to think this out. “Well… the Amazons first started in Pontus near the shore of the Euxine Sea by Queen Hippolyta, who’s name actually means ‘she let’s her horses lose’. They also spread out to other areas such as Smyrna, Sinope, Paphos, and particularly Ephesus. In Ephesus the Amazon Nation built the beautiful, amazing Temple of Artemis, which actually no longer exists in my time.”

Solari stared in awe at the archeologist. “Wow,” she breathed.

Ephiny huffed. “Alright… who’s Antiope?”

Janice’s hungry smile showed she loved this challenge. “They say she’s the daughter of Ares but her sister was Hippolyta and Melanippe. She married Theseus the King of Athens at the time. Then she died by the hands of Molpadia when she was seriously injured during the Attic War.” She paused then whispered, “She didn’t want to return to Theseus after just siding with the Amazons again.”

Solari was speechless.

Ephiny was irritated. “Alright then who is Otrera?”

The archeologist grew smug. “Everybody knows Otera… not only is she the mother of Hippolyta, Antiope and a few others but she’s the mother of the Amazon Nation some say. She really started the first Amazon Nation before her daughters then later the founder of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.”

Solari chuckled and elbowed her friend. “She’s got you, Ephiny. Give it up.”

The Amazon grumbled but decided to let it go. She would make sure to get even with this impertinent woman later on that’d been playing her all along.

Janice pushed her empty plate aside then asked, “I will admit though despite I think I know a lot about Greek history I had no clue about the Conqueror.”

Solari was bent forward over her mug of wine. Her eyebrows were tied together. “What do you mean?”

The archeologist sighed folded her arms on the table so she could lean against them. “You see, in my time nobody knows anything about Xena and she’s my main interest. I’m trying to discover proof that she’s real.”

“Ooo she’s real alright,” hotly complained Ephiny.

“I know that,” started Janice, “but the thing is what information I do have on her, she was never a ruler.” She stopped in consideration of things then it struck her. “Actually what’s really strange is the fact there is no record or knowledge of her being a ruler. There would have been something left behind of her legacy with that sort of power.”

“Yes, a legacy of death.” Ephiny sadly sighed and glanced at her quiet friend.

Solari had a sad expression too. “The Conqueror is very powerful,” she informed Janice. “She rules Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britannia, and is in control of Egypt as well as Chin.”

Janice ran the name Chin through her mind and realized that she meant China. “So the Conqueror isn’t the ruler of Egypt?” This could help her if she knew who the ruler of Egypt was currently.

“She controls Egypt indirectly,” explained Solari. “The ruler there is Cleopatra.”

Janice’s eyes widened in realization. “Shit… that puts the date somewhere before 30 B.C.”

Ephiny had a curious look as she tried to decipher what Janice meant.

Solari though added, “Cleopatra sided with the Conqueror when Julius Caesar and Mark Antony began civil war in Rome. They tried to court her for her navy.”

Ephiny smirked then chimed in, “It seems though that the Conqueror courted her better.”

Solari rolled her eyes but agreed with her friend. “Supposedly.”

The archeologist was carefully listening to every piece as she tried to glue them together. She could only wonder what this would lead up to. What still wasn’t making any sense was how her scrolls and records of Xena depicted her has a warlord turned hero. Never did the scrolls say she was a ruler and especially of Europe including England. If that were true then there would surely be records left behind of her existence as such and not this meager trail that Janice had been following. Besides that when Janice met Xena, well in Melinda’s body, she didn’t exactly seem like the ruler type. Janice knew she was missing a piece and probably a big one.

“So who’s this Alti person anyway?” asked Janice. She hadn’t heard much about her kidnapper yet and still needed to know. All she had was that Alti was a shaman that knew Xena somehow.

“Alti?” repeated Solari, her tone was cold. “She’s Hade’s spawn… even worse.”

“You said she’s a shaman?” Janice’s question went to Ephiny.

The Amazon slowly nodded.

Solari cut in by explaining, “She’s also an ex-Amazon.” She took a nice gulp her wine then continued talking. “She was actually in Queen Cyane’s Nation many, many moons back.”

Ephiny propped an elbow on the table to rest her face in her hand and she listened to her friend tell the tale of Alti, Queen Cyane, and the Conqueror.

Janice was also quite entranced as carefully listened to every detail.

“This was back when there was more than one Nation… like you said when the Amazons were further east in Smyrna, Sinope, and Ephesus was the capital.” Solari sighed while shaking her head at memories of the good days.

“What happened?” queried Janice.

“Well it started when this warlord came from Chin to Queen Cyane’s Nation in Macedonia.”

“Xena you mean.”

Solari nodded at Janice. “Yes, the warlord was Xena. She befriended Queen Cyane and the Amazons but became close to Alti.” She noted how Janice’s face took on realization. “Alti was a weak shaman at the time but she saw the dark potential that Xena harbored so she took it. Alti promised Xena she would rule the known-world and in return Alti would stay by her side and receive all the power she needed.”

“What is her power?”

Ephiny for once spoke up. “A dark shaman, like Alti, feeds off of hatred and fear by taking both light and dark souls. When somebody is killed she’ll drink their blood then controls their very soul for how ever long she decides.”

“Which is always forever,” added Solari. “At the time Queen Cyane didn’t trust Xena or Alti. She became suspicious about their growing relationship and just before she was going top banned Xena from the Nation she attacked her and several other Amazons.”

Janice absorbed the long winded information thrown at her. “I see that Cyane survived.”

“Barely,” retorted Ephiny.

“It’s still talked about to this day.” Solari fiddled with her mug, her eyes peering into the empty container. “They still talk about how Xena was dishonorable and attacked the Amazons. She betrayed them… us.” Her eyes lifted to Janice. “She left Queen Cyane to die… hanging on a thick tree limb through her stomach.”

The archeologist flinched because even she couldn’t imagine. Now she understood why the Amazon Queen had those scars on her stomach and backside.

“Alti did manage to steal Cyane’s blood as she hung from the tree.” Solari shook her head. “To this day, the queen believes her soul will not be hers when she dies.”

Janice’s emotions came to life when she heard this. She was beginning to admire this queen.

“Needless to say, Alti and Xena escaped back to Xena’s waiting army. Together the pair marched over Greece. Alti grew in spiritual power while Xena grew in feared power.” Solari broke from her story and gazed at her best friend beside her. She looked back at Janice. “The only reason we’re still here is because of Queen Cyane. The Conqueror drove us from Ephesus, through Macedonia, southeast into Epirus and now here into Thessaly. And it was Queen Cyane that kept us together and kept us safe through everything. Now… we’re a stones throw from Corinth just so the Conqueror can sit there and watch us.”

“Why doesn’t she send an army to destroy the Nation?” urged Janice.

Ephiny straightened up now. “Because she enjoys watching us dwindle into nothing. Her favorite thing is a slow death… in many forms.”

“It won’t happen though,” challenged Solari, “not with Queen Cyane. She’s the driving force behind the Nation.” She looked at Ephiny then said, “If she can survive the Conqueror then so can the Nation.”

Ephiny nodded her head in agreement.

Janice released a deep breath she’d been holding. She was absolutely fascinated by the events despite she was also bewildered. “So the capitol is in Corinth then? Not Athens?”

“Athens is gone,” reported Ephiny. “The Conqueror leveled it a long time ago.”

The archeologist was mystified. “Why?”

“Some say it was because she hated the arts and the Academy of Performing Bards was located there. She believed if the people were cultured then they could rise up against her. She prefers her people to be dumb and fearful.”

Janice stared at Solari then asked, “What’s the other reason?”

“She just liked the view better in Corinth than in Athens,” answered Ephiny.

Janice thought it was a joke but she could tell it really wasn’t at all. She huffed out and straightened up from leaning against the table.

“Trust me, if that’s all you hear about the Conqueror… you’d be so lucky.” Solari swiped at her empty mug. “I need to get onto patrol duty.” She turned to Ephiny. “I’ll see you later.” She offered a smile now to Janice. “It was nice to meet you Janice… Covington.”

The archeologist mirrored back the smile. “You too, Solari.”

Ephiny waited for her friend to get out of earshot then she chided, “How’s that for a history lesson?” She didn’t wait for a response and got up with her plate.

The archeologist frowned at Ephiny’s question. It certainly wasn’t history that sat well in her stomach on top of her food. None of it made sense but she knew it would eventually. She gathered her plate and utensils then followed her keeper. “So where to next?”

Ephiny stood by the table where the dirty plates and dishes get dropped off. “How do you feel?”

The archeologist wait a second then finally answered, “Pretty good.”

“We’ll do a tour then.” The Amazon directed the stranger to follow her and into the sunny day.

“What season is it?” Janice was gazing off to the sun and determined it must be about the middle afternoon or so.

“It is a moon before the Fall Equinox.”

Janice’s mind quickly worked out the time and figured it must be roughly August 22, 30 B.C. but give or take a few years along with days. Hmmm wonder if it’s Friday, thought Janice, ’cause a stiff drink would be perfect.

“I will show you the sparring fields first.” The Amazon took off in that direction.

“Sparring fields?” muttered Janice. She wasn’t about to pass this up or any of the tour. She just wished she had a paper, pen and a camera with plenty of film. This was a chance not even in a lifetime but her memory would have to do her. She was thanking god that she had a perfect memory and an eye for detail. For Janice, she was a kid not just in a candy jar but in a candy factory.

Ephiny came to an abrupt stop and held her hand out. “These are the sparring fields.” Her hand fell to her side.

The archeologist stepped up and focused on the scene of many leather clad women with swords that were sparring. Off in the distance were also women practicing their aim as archers. She stood rooted and memorizing the scene. It was breathtaking and overwhelming.

Ephiny folded her arms across her chest and studied how the stranger was just mesmerized. She’d seen this everyday of her life but she had no idea how this scene would look from new eyes. She gazed out over her sparring sisters and just couldn’t make that mental leap.

“Does anybody… train them?”

The Amazon nodded then answered, “Eponin is our weapons master.” She turned her head to the small woman. “She also found you.”

Janice gave Ephiny a curious look. “How many people found me?”

“Solari, Eponin, and I… we were on patrol duty when we heard you scream.”

The archeologist slowly grinned at the Amazon. “So did my scream sound like the same one from Gabrielle?”

Ephiny narrowed her eyes. “Let’s continue.” She spun around on her boots and stomped off.

Janice ran her tongue along the front of her teeth. She knew she needed to stop aggravating Ephiny but it was just an uncontrollable need for Janice. She hurried up to catch Ephiny and they stopped by a building that was much larger, more beautiful, and very defined compared to anything else in the village. Janice tilted back as her eyes followed to the top of the building. “A temple.”

“Very good,” tormented Ephiny.

“A temple to Hades?” teased the archeologist.

Once again Ephiny found herself rolling her eyes then ascended the steps of the temple. She held open the door for the stranger.

Janice stood by the open door and smirked at Ephiny. “You’re good at being a door holder. You might want to think about changing jobs, Eph.” Before she got the hot response she knew she would get she hurried into the temple.

Ephiny stood still, her eyes closed, and calming her irregular breathing. “Artemis, why? What have I done so wrong to deserve this?” She finally went into the temple and was surprise to see Janice just making a circle where she stood.

The archeologist slowly rotated as she stood in the middle of the temple. She was absolutely awed by the beauty as she took in every careful detail. She’d never seen such amazing statues, art pieces, and a table covered by more offerings than she could imagine.

The Amazon stepped around Janice when a small but pronounced woman approached them. She bowed her head in respect.

Janice finally realized there was a newcomer and she grinned.

“It’s good to see you, Ephiny.”

Ephiny straightened up and offered a smile. “You too, Yakut.”

Janice filed the name away with the woman’s beautiful, petite face. “I’m Janice… Janice Covington.” She held out her hand.

Yakut slowly smiled at the abrasive stranger. “I am Yakut.” She took Janice’s entire forearm and shook.

When the pair broke the arm contact, Ephiny informed Janice of Yakut’s position. “Yakut is the shaman of the village.”

Janice stiffened at the news, which wasn’t lost on anybody.

“A good shaman at that,” clarified Ephiny.

The archeologist curiously studied Ephiny to confirm it then looked back at the shaman. “Sorry. I had a bad run in with Alti.”

Yakut was now stiffening up and she quickly gazed at Ephiny. “What has happened?”

“It’s okay,” assured Ephiny. “We don’t know everything but it has something to do with Alti.”

The shaman folded her arms. “I will speak to the queen about it then.”

“It would be best,” agreed Ephiny. She then cleared her throat as she braced to tell Yakut more. “Janice was….” She glanced down at the small women then back at Yakut. “She was kidnapped by Alti from the future and brought here.”

The shaman didn’t act surprised at all by Ephiny’s words. She’d seen many things in her days, especially with being a shaman. “When was this?”

“Four days ago.”

Yakut nodded at the Amazon’s words. “Well, welcome to the Amazon Nation,” she offered to Janice.

The archeologist had a wide grin. “Thanks.”

“If you require any guidance, Janice my door is always open.” Yakut bowed her head some. “If I am not then surely Priestess Idola will be here.”

Janice opened her mouth to ask something but she was too dumbstruck.

Somehow Ephiny picked this up. “We have a shaman and a priestess. Typically Nations only have a priestess but Queen Cyane’s Nation only had a shaman while all the others had a priestess.”

“So she just kept both then,” concluded Janice.

“Yes,” agreed Yakut. “Priestess Idola handles the worship of Artemis. I, however, handle anything in the spirit world… especially those Amazons that have passed on. I make sure they make it to the Amazon Lands safely.”

Janice’s head was just swimming with information. She wasn’t sure what to do with it all.

Ephiny could tell the stranger was having a hard time taking everything in at once. She looked to the shaman. “Thank you, Yakut. I believe Janice has seen enough for today.”

“Very well.” Yakut gently smiled at the stranger. “I am sure I will see you again, Janice. Please rest up.” With that, she turned and glided across the stone floor.

“I think you need some rest,” suggested Ephiny. For the first time, her voice held a note of concern.

The archeologist touched her forehead with her left hand. She could feel the throbbing starting when she thought she’d rid of her headache earlier. “Maybe so.”

The Amazon was surprise there was no argument. “I’ll show you to your hut.” She guided her charge out of the temple, down the steps, and through the busy village. She finally came upon the hut that Queen Cyane had assigned for Janice whenever she was ready. Ephiny pushed the door open and stepped in to find everything in order.

The archeologist was humbled by the simple surroundings of the room. There was a bed, small desk with chair, a fireplace, and an entrance into another small, dark room. Now she wondered what the bathroom situation was here. She decided she was in no mood to find out right now.

Ephiny stood in the doorway of the hut. “Dinner will not be until sunset. That’ll give you plenty of time to rest.” When Janice faced her again she continued speaking. “There will be two guards at your hut if you require anything… or me.” She caught the devilish grin from Janice, which made Ephiny huff. “I will see you then.”

Janice brushed back her loose hair and said, “Thanks, Eph.”

The Amazon hesitated in mid stride of walking out and she softly replied, “You’re welcome.” Then with that, she was gone.

The archeologist went to the bed and stared at it. She could tell the mattress idea was beyond the ancient world but this was far better than the wood pallet. “Well… not like I’m not use to roughing it.” She chuckled then went to the desk to sit down. She took several painful minutes to get her boots off, socks, and she decided to just go ahead and remove her shirt. The bandages pretty well covered her upper body and nobody would care.

Finally Janice found herself in the bed and was quite surprised by how comfortable it was on her. “God… not bad.” She snuggled in under the smooth sheets and remained on her back. She preferred being on her stomach but that was out of the question.

Janice remained awake for some time as her mind tried to work out today’s events and information. She had no doubt she was in the past and it was in Cleopatra’s age. That much was a proven fact and so was her being in Greece. What was beyond her was this whole Xena the Conqueror thing. She slightly shook her head at the idea. It was practically impossible for Xena to be such a powerful ruler then nobody ever know of her in the future. Even when Egypt tried to erase their first queen from history it didn’t work.

So far Julius Caesar, Antony, Alexander, the Amazons, and the Attic War were real events and people. Somewhere in the thick of all this there was a break in history and Janice had to find it. She would have to keep probing to find this break to get her answer. She just didn’t know why there was a break or what it meant. And even if she did find it then what good would it do if it didn’t get her home?
Chapter 2 – Truth be Told

The gruff archeologist slightly jumped in her seat when the healer removed the stitching from her right hand. She was amazed that her hand had healed within two weeks so easily. Once Eilis had the threads out, she flexed her hand into a nice fist and felt satisfied at the lack of pain.

“Hold on,” persisted the healer. She stood up and turned to the shelving to her right. She scanned through the jars until she found the one she wanted. A she sat down again, she placed the jar on the table between her and the blond stranger. “I’ll put some light salve on it. You won’t need the bandage anymore.”

Janice only nodded. She watched the old Amazon gently rub the white balm into her skin. Finally it was done and she asked, “Am I free?”

Eilis slowly smiled at the impatient woman. “Yes, but I still want you to stop in a few days from now. I want to make sure everything is healing up just fine.”

The archeologist let out a dramatic sigh.

“After that check up, if you’re fine, then I won’t hassle you anymore,” bantered the healer.

Janice’s eyes lightened and she smiled. “Thanks.” She quickly stood up, grabbed her fedora off the corner of the table, and strolled out of the healer’s hut. When she stepped out, she found Ephiny waiting for her below. “Miss me?”

Ephiny smirked. “Endlessly, Jan.”

The archeologist sighed again as she loudly came down the wood steps. She really hated Ephiny’s nickname for her. In recent days the Amazon had come up with the nickname, Jan, which just set Janice off every time without failure. She figured though that it was only fair so Janice vigorously worked up new ways to aggravate Ephiny. Yet it wasn’t so much fun when Ephiny quickly caught up. Now it was becoming a game between the pair.

“We need to go to the queen’s office hut.”

Janice perked up at this news. She adjusted her hat some on her head. She was relieved to get it a few days after she woke up. She also received her jacket back but didn’t wear it as it was too hot. “So what’s up, Eph?”

The Amazon shifted closer and quietly replied, “I believe the queen wishes to string you up by your boot laces.”

The archeologist gave a dower look. “Funny.”

“I’m not sure,” confessed the Amazon. “We should go… the queen doesn’t like dawdlers.”

Janice rolled her eyes. “Let’s not linger then.” She started off on the journey across the village.

Ephiny grunted and strolled along side her charge. She noted the quietness of Janice, which was unusual as she was anything like that. She could tell there was something on the archeologist’s mind by the way Janice’s brow was tightly creased, her eyes unfocused, and lips sealed firmly. “Dinar for your thoughts?”

Janice blinked out of her reverie and realized what Ephiny had asked. “I just…” She shook her head then fell silent.

The Amazon twisted with concern for the first time. She stopped and grabbed the smaller woman’s shoulder. “What?”

The archeologist turned to the Amazon; her expression written with surprise about Ephiny’s concern. “I’m just starting… starting to think I won’t make it home.”

Ephiny picked out the quiver in the usually stoic woman’s voice. She was amazed. “Listen don’t give up on getting home, Janice. Really.” She stepped closer, grabbed the woman’s shoulders, and dipped her head to lock her gaze on soft green eyes. “The only reason the queen has kept you here is because she wants to make sure you’re well. I think she wants to discuss with you what your plans are now that you’re well.”

The archeologist shook her head then lowered it so that her brim hid her face. “The only way home is with that scepter.” She finally lifted her head to meet Ephiny. “Not only do I have to get through Alti but the Conqueror too.”

Ephiny sighed because she knew how the odds looked. “If it was me,” she confessed, “I would go for it. What is here to stop you?”

Janice tilted her head to one side. “Very true.”

“Come on.” The Amazon released her charge and guided her through the village.

Finally they arrived at the queen’s office hut and Ephiny rapped on the door. When they were called in, she let Janice in first then she followed suit. Queen Cyane signaled the chairs in front of her desk and asked them to sit.

“I have heard from Eilis that you’re almost healed,” stated the queen first.

Janice nodded.

“And I’ve heard you’ve done much research about the Amazon Nation and our history,” added the queen.

“I have… its rather fascinating.” Janice folded her hands in her lap. “I’ve found a higher appreciation for the Amazons.”

“I am glad to hear this.” Queen Cyane now leaned back in her chair to get comfortable. “Have you put any thought into your plans now?”

The archeologist remained silent for a second or two then finally said, “I need to go home.” Her eyes were down to her lap but she looked up now. “I don’t belong here.”

Cyane read the determination in the stranger. She knew there was no way she could stop Janice nor would she try. “And do you have a plan?”

Janice licked her lips. “I just plan to storm the castle with guns blazing.” Well make that gun blazing, mentally corrected Janice, if she could get her gun back.

Ephiny inwardly sighed at the smartass remark.

“Well that sounds like a… stupid plan,” stated the queen.

“Thank you,” murmured Ephiny.

The archeologist sharply looked at Ephiny and reacted by smacking her just as fast.

The Amazon ignored Janice though and turned to the queen. “Perhaps what Janice requires are a few sword lessons before she does any… storming.”

Queen Cyane eyed her Amazon then she leaned forward against her desk. “Do you plan to teacher her, Ephiny?”

Ephiny just could not understand how she kept getting into this position with Janice.

“Yeah, Eph… how about it?”

Ephiny’s amber eyes dimmed at the small woman. Then an idea occurred to her and she quickly looked back to the queen. “If I can have Master Eponin’s help.”

“As long as she agrees,” conceded the queen. “Otherwise you can train your charge alone.”

“What if this charge doesn’t want to be trained?” interjected the stranger.

“And what godsbedamned weapon have you mastered, Plato?”

Janice bared her teeth at Ephiny. “Give me my goddamn gun and I’ll show you… personally.”

“Is that a threat?” retaliated the Amazon, who was leaning over her seat towards Janice.

“That’s a goddamn promise, featherhead,” spat the tempered archeologist.

“Enough!” growled the queen. She sighed because she seriously felt like a parent separating kids.

Ephiny held her ground against the brass archeologist but she snorted and turned away.

Janice adjusted her hat in a typical habit. She grunted at her keeper’s loose tongue but she focused back on the queen.

“You said a… gun?” inquired the queen.

The archeologist instantly cussed every dirty word known to past and present. She slumped in her chair. “Yes, my gun.”

“What is a gun?” Cyane was nervous about this but she had an idea of what Janice was referring to earlier. “Was it the metal thing we found on you?”

Janice tried to control her apprehension because she needed to be careful here. “Yes, that thing is a gun… or a revolver.” She hesitated but quietly added, “It’s a weapon.”

“It doesn’t seem like much,” chided Ephiny. “What you do with it? Shove it up your-”

“Ephiny,” interjected the queen, “I’ve really had enough.” She was amazed by her Amazon’s constant hostility towards Janice. She would have thought after half a moon’s cycle that the pair would have gotten along. “Janice, what does this gun do?”

The archeologist had her hands laced together in her lap now; her own grip was strong. “Well… the best way I can explain it is that acts like a bow and arrow or… a blow dart.” She held her breath while her mind worked it out. “I put these… projectiles in it called bullets. When I pull the trigger, it shoots off the bullet to wherever I aimed.”

The queen was extremely interested now. “These… bullets can’t be very big.”

The stranger held up her right hand and demonstrated the height with her thumb and index finger. “They’re about that large but the damage can be… fatal.”

“Can you really kill somebody with it?”

Janice turned her head to Ephiny and whispered, “Easily.”

The Amazon held her tongue, her gaze returning to the musing queen.

Cyane wasn’t concerned about the weapon right now since it was safely tucked away. She was more concerned with Janice possessing it, especially when Janice first arrived but now she debated.

Ephiny could tell an internal battle was going on within the queen. She had her inclinations on what it was so she spoke up. “I believe Janice will be safe with it, my queen.”

The queen was shocked by her Amazon’s words. She didn’t expect Ephiny to speak on Janice’s behalf when they’d been clearly arguing earlier. “Do you trust her, Ephiny?”

Janice held her breath.

Ephiny considered Janice for a few heartbeats then stated to the queen. “Completely.”

Cyane truly honored Ephiny’s opinions and she nodded while sitting back in her chair. “Very well, Ephiny. You know where it is located… see that you return it to her.” After a deep breath, she stated, “Now that the gun is settled, what are your plans, Janice?”

The stranger grabbed her hat and pulled it off her head. She settled it into her lap. “I do need to return to my time… I can’t be here. I know the only way I can do that is to get that scepter.” She stopped while chewing on the side of her mouth for a moment. “My gun only has so many bullets so it can only help me for so long. Ephiny is right… I need to learn a weapon.”

“I believe that is a wise choice,” agreed the queen. “By then, perhaps you’ll have worked out a solid plan.”

The archeologist bowed her head in agreement. “Hopefully.”

“Is there anything else, my queen?”

Cyane ran things through her head then shook her head at Ephiny. “I believe that is it… for now.” Her next words were directed at Janice. “I will know how your progress goes. When you are ready then find me.”

Janice leaned forward some and she picked up her hat to let it rest on her right knee now. “I take it then you believe I am from the future?”

“I believe you’re not from here, yes.” The Amazon Queen laced her hands on the edge of her desk. “Let that be from the future or some other… reality but I am not too concerned.”

“What of Aliti?”

Cyane hardened at the name.

“Aren’t you even worried about why she was in your borders?” challenged Janice.

Ephiny tensed at this line of questioning.

Finally the queen spoke her thoughts about the topic. “As long as Alti hasn’t harmed my Nation then I am only leery. I believe she is more concerned with your movements than the Amazon Nation’s.”

“Perhaps,” murmured Janice but she thought otherwise.

“I believe that is everything,” stated the queen, who had grown aggravated by Janice’s latter attitude. “See that you continue to help her, Ephiny.”

“Of course, my queen.” Ephiny bowed her head then she stood up after the queen’s consent. She signaled for her charge to get up too and take leave.

The archeologist was grounding her teeth but doing everything to stay quiet. She got out of the hut first and didn’t wait for Ephiny as she trudged off.

“Janice!” called the Amazon however she received no response. Ephiny said goodbye to the queen then hurried after the stranger.

Janice threw on her hat then came to an abrupt stop by a hand on her shoulder.

“I said stop,” hotly ordered the Amazon.

The archeologist turned sharply on the Amazon. “And you need to fuckin’ back off.” She jerked her shoulder free and walked off.

Ephiny’s anger went up another step. She rushed ahead and stepped in front of the angry archeologist. “I don’t think so.” She pointed her finger at the small woman. “I just backed your smartass up in there to get that gun of yours back. Do not make me regret helping you because I have no problem getting you exiled from the Nation.” She stepped closer and brought her face into Janice’s. “Then you can go gun blazing into the Conqueror’s, alone, and kill yourself.”

Janice dropped her head and stared at the ground and her boots. She closed her eyes so that she could separate from Ephiny for a second and calm her overactive temper. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

The Amazon had her hands on her hips but at Janice’s apology she relaxed and straightened up again. “That’s a start.”

Janice detected the lightheartedness of Ephiny’s tone now. She dropped her head back again so she could see Ephiny. “I just… I don’t understand how she can just ignore Alti like that.”

“She’s not,” argued Ephiny, “but she knows there’s not much she can do.”

“What?” The archeologist was in disbelief. “Some wild shaman comes into her Nation and she’s going to fucking ignore it!”

Ephiny suddenly realized nearby Amazons stopped after Janice’s explosion. She quickly grabbed Janice’s closest wrist and hauled her away into a quiet spot about a thousand paces away from all the activity. “Listen to me really good, Janice and shut up for once.” She pointed her finger again at the small woman. “Queen Cyane is very much a goddess to these Amazons… including me. The only reason this Nation is here is because of her persistence and intelligence to keep us together and away from harm.” She lowered her hand to her side. “Sometimes reacting to every incident isn’t the best.”

“Then maybe she should act instead,” grounded out Janice.

Ephiny licked her dry lips then softly said, “You can’t understand, Janice what she’s been through… the Amazons. There is more to this than good versus evil.”

“What else could there be?” challenged the archeologist.

“Lives… lots of them.” Ephiny remained quiet now to let her charge absorb her last words.

Janice gave into Ephiny’s reasoning because it was true. World War II was certainly a testament to all the lives being lost needlessly to one man’s twisted visions.

Ephiny sensed the shift in the small woman, which calmed her even more. She softly offered, “Let’s go get your gun.”

The archeologist mutely agreed and trailed along side the Amazon back into the village and towards the sparring fields.

The pair made it near the sparring fields but Ephiny took Janice into a hut on the edge of the fields where they were greeted by the weapons master.

Eponin stood up from her desk and smiled at her friend. “What brings you here?”

Ephiny rested her hands on her hips while saying, “The queen has authorized Janice to have her gun back.”

“Gun?”

Janice had a faint smirk. “That metal thing.”

It dawned on Eponin. “The queen authorized it?” She had to double-check even though she trusted Ephiny fully.

“Yes, its fine, Eponin.”

The weapons master nodded then said, “Follow me.” As they followed her, she heard Ephiny talking behind her about something else.

“Janice also needs a weapon to begin practice with.”

Eponin’s eyebrow furrowed at this news. “Who is to teach her?”

“You,” quickly answered Janice.

Ephiny groaned but explained, “I am actually but I’d like your help… so would Janice.”

The archeologist directed a grin at the weapons master. “I definitely would.”

Eponin grunted at the pair. “I will help as much as I can.” She approached a hut and pushed the door open for them.

Once Janice entered, she was amazed by all the weaponry and armor all over the place. She’d never seen such an armory like this.

“Wait here,” ordered Eponin, who vanished into a side room.

“You keep a lot of stock,” noted Janice aloud.

Ephiny grinned at the remark. “You can never be too prepared.”

“I’ll say.” Janice approached a freestanding unit of staffs. She trailed her fingertips along each one of them. She’d read in one of the few Xena Scrolls that her ancestor used such a weapon. She knew it was more of a defensive weapon but it could be quite dangerous too.

“You like the quarterstaff?” Ephiny came to Janice’s side, her eyes questioning.

Janice pulled her hand away then slowly shook her head. “My ancestor, Gabrielle, she favored… favors the staff.”

The Amazon folded her arms over her chest. “Not the Gabrielle I saw… she only had her words.”

The archeologist chuckled then her twinkling eyes lifted to Ephiny from under the brim. “That’s a weapon too.”

“I’m noticing,” chided the Amazon.

Eponin appeared with the gun in her right hand then a small leather pouch and gun holster in her left. “Here is the… gun.” She held out the weapon.

Janice felt a charge surge through her right hand as her fingers curled around the handle. When the steel weapon was in her possession again, she felt relieved. “What’s this?” She pointed at the leather satchel.

The weapons master opened the pouch and retrieved one of the contents. “These metal things too.”

Janice grinned and plucked the bullet from the Amazon’s fingers. “Great. I was wondering where the extra bullets went from my jacket.” She first took the holster from Eponin and efficiently hooked it back around her waist again.

Ephiny leaned back some, her arms still on her chest, and her attention fully on the stranger.

Janice next took the pouch and poured the handful of bullets into her hand. She shoved them into her left pocket then handed the pouch back. Finally with great enjoyment, Janice flipped open the chamber like a missed habit. She picked a few bullets from her pocket and carefully inserted them one by one into the chamber.

The weapons master was intently watching and wondering what such a small weapon could do. She figured it couldn’t be anymore dangerous than a dagger but then again daggers could be fatal if used properly.

Ephiny slightly jumped when the archeologist slammed the chamber shut and gave it a rough spin.

Janice smirked up at Ephiny. “Want me to keep my promise, Eph?” Her gun held up next to the side of her face, her eyes wild.

Eponin didn’t like this, her right hand lifting some.

Ephiny waved her off but she leaned into Janice then pressed the side of the barrel against Janice’s head. “When you learn a real weapon then yes.”

Janice hummed at that, her grin larger than earlier. She lowered the revolver and rammed it into her holster. “It’s easy being scared, Eph.”

“Well then you better start learning, Jan,” chide the Amazon.

Janice’s narrowed her eyes at Ephiny but she finally laughed. “You’re on.” She held out her arm for the challenge.

Ephiny quickly clasped her arm and shook, her eyes bright with excitement and promise.

Eponin was confused but she rolled her eyes at the two. She headed back to the same room again but called out, “Ephiny, help her figure out a weapon.”

The Amazon and archeologist broke arms then Ephiny directed her charge through the armory to help her select a weapon.

“How about the sword?” Janice stopped in front of a rack of swords.

“How about that quarterstaff?” taunted Ephiny.

The archeologist pretended to be deaf in that moment as she touched a sword in front of her. The shiniest of the weapon captured her full attention. “A sword.”

The Amazon sighed but she freed the one that Janice was so inclined to have in her hands. She stepped back a few paces then gave a demonstration of the weapon.

Janice was dazed while watching the beautiful dance before her. She released her breath when Ephiny finished. “The sword… definitely.”

The Amazon chuckled then with a flick of her wrist she spun the sword and held it out to Janice. Her eyes shifted to the weapons master behind Janice and saw the approval nod.

Ephiny quickly retracted the sword, flipped it, and held out the handle to Janice.

The archeologist wrapped her fingers around the solid hilt then lifted it from Ephiny’s hands. She was amazed by the weight compared to her meager revolver. She held the sword before her eyes and memorized every detail of the blade until it finally reflected her own image.

Ephiny dropped her head some to the right. She was interested in the stranger’s enchantment by the sword. To her, it was merely cold metal and a sharp edge but to Janice it was what much of history was ridden on.

“Janice?” Eponin’s voice broke the spell.

The archeologist lowered the weapon to her side and faced the Amazon behind her.

“I believe these are yours too.” Eponin held out her right hand.

“Holy shit,” exclaimed the excited woman. She grabbed up the six cigars from Eponin along with the lighter. Now life was getting a little bit back on track, concluded Janice.

“What are those?” inquired Ephiny, who stepped up to her charge.

“Cigars,” explained Janice, “You smoke them.”

The Amazon had her mouth open but she didn’t know what to say. She shook her head with her curly locks moving in motion. “Whatever you say, Jan.”

The archeologist smirked at her keeper and held up a cigar in solute. “Life looks clearer in smoke.” She laughed then tucked her prized property away in her back pocket. “So, when do we start sword lessons?” She tried to mimic Ephiny’s wrist swing of the sword but nearly sliced herself while doing it.

Eponin groaned loudly from behind the archeologist.

Ephiny bent forward laughing.

The following days suddenly became very long for the archeologist as she spent the better part of each day with Ephiny and sometimes Eponin. She was being well trained by the two Amazons and on rare occasions Solari would show up to test Janice.

Ephiny found herself rather surprised by Janice’s fast progress with the sword. She also became highly amused when the gruff archeologist figured out that her clothing attire was not suitable at all for weapons training. The first day of training broke Janice into an extra healthy sweat and demonstrated just how out of shape she was. That day, Ephiny was relentless about her teasing especially since Janice wasn’t so fast on the uptake from being exhausted.

By the second day, in the early morning Janice gave in and returned to the armory with Ephiny at her side. She was hotly grumbling under her breath all the way to the armory hut.

Ephiny loved it, the biggest grin chiseled across her face. She smacked Janice’s backside roughly when Janice entered the armory hut.

The archeologist pointed a finger at the Amazon in warning. “Don’t even start.” She stomped into the hut.

Ephiny strolled in then directed her charge into a side room. “These are all our Amazon leathers.”

Janice stood in the center of the room, her hands on her hips, and she stared at the table of endless leathers. “So do any of these have… pants?”

Ephiny couldn’t help it, she started to laugh and tried to cover her mouth but it failed to stop her laughter.

Janice growled at her keeper then she stepped up to the table. She started sifting through them and not finding a thing she liked. This just wasn’t what she expected at all yet she needed something suitable for all this training.

The Amazon settled down after awhile and she stepped up beside Janice. “How about these?” She held up a very short skirt that she already knew would be rejected.

“I don’t think so, Eph.” Janice walked away and started around the large table.

Ephiny dropped the leathers onto the stack. She tried to be serious now and hunted through the leathers. “You probably want something plain, huh?”

“What you trying to say?” The archeologist paused, her dangerous glint in her eyes.

The Amazon bit her lower lip and never replied back. She finally came upon something promising and picked up the matching set. “How about this?”

Janice lifted her head and took in the set of leathers.

The skirt wasn’t long nor too short but it was a dark brown with little leather tassels along the belt. Then the top, to Janice, was simply a fancy leather bra that also had matching leather tassels on the bottom. The straps were braided leather and the cups of the top had fine but noticeable stitching.

“Well that’s not very revealing,” snort Janice.

Ephiny’s shoulders slumped. “You’re not going to find anything in here that isn’t.”

“I’m starting to figure this out,” complained Janice. She came around the table and took the articles from Ephiny.

The Amazon could tell Janice was uneasy about this so she tried to make light of it. “You don’t have anything we haven’t seen.”

The stranger glowered up at her keeper.

“Plus your stomach is pretty well healed from the burns,” reminded Ephiny. She shrugged and pointed at the sheathed sword in Janice’s left hand. “Plus we can get that sword out of your hand so you don’t have to carry it.” She gently touched Janice with her freehand. “Just try it.”

The archeologist gave in with a curse. “What the hell.” She handed Ephiny her sword then she took the leathers.

“There’s a changing room over there.” Ephiny pointed. She watched as Janice disappeared into it, which gave her some time to search out a better sheath for the Amazon sword. By the time she returned to the leathers room, Janice was padding out in bare feet and in a new outfit. Ephiny tensed up as she absorbed the new look.

Janice held out her arms, her head down, and looking her body over. She lifted her head while shaking it. “There’s no way in hell.”

“Wait, wait.” Ephiny tossed the sword with new sheath onto the stack of leathers. She came over then pretended to fuss over the outfit, straightening things out. “You’re just missing something… wait.” Ephiny turned on her heels and went to the small table nearby where there was an assortment of jewelry.

Janice studied the beautiful piece that Ephiny selected when she came back. At first she was confused with what the silver bracelet was but she understood quickly when Ephiny slipped it through her right hand and up her arm.

Janice slightly cringed against the chill of the metal. She considered the linked, silver feathers that made an arm bracelet.

“You need some new boots too.” The Amazon hurried off to a corner of the room.

“I can’t keep my damn gun with me with this outfit,” complained the stranger.

Ephiny was bent over, her hand grazing over the tops of boots, and she came to a stop at Janice’s words. She grinned before snatching up a pair of the perfect boots. She came back over and ordered, “Put them on.”

The grumbling archeologist shoved her bare feet into them, bent over, and laced them up. “What are these… side laces for?”

The Amazon smirked. “Your gun.”

Janice paused in between lacing the boots. “Really?” She finished her task and straightened up. “Let me try.” She wondered back into the changing room where she left her gun in its holster. If she could make a few modifications with her holster then this might work. She easily pulled the holster free from the belt then bent down and first she removed her revolver. Next she toyed with lacing the holster to the right side of her boot through the straps of the holster. She finally had it tied snuggly to her right leg then she finally inserted the gun and hooked it into place. “Not bad,” she muttered.

Ephiny slowly grinned as Janice exited the changing room. She was by the doorway and holding the sword in its new sheath. “Here.” She lifted the sword up as the strap fell loose.

Janice ducked her head when the strap came over her, across her chest, and the new weight was on her back.

The Amazon quickly peddled backwards and took in the finished look.

The archeologist rested her hands on her hips, waiting judgment. “I look stupid don’t I?”

Ephiny bit her lip but she couldn’t help it. “Not anymore, Jan.”

Janice growled, her features went dark.

“Just untie your hair though.” Ephiny waved at her to do it.

The strange let out a huge sigh but she did it anyway. She put the black hair tie on her right wrist then quickly arranged her hair to feel comfortable.

The Amazon’s head was bobbing. “Ooo yeah.”

“What?” snapped Janice.

“You’re lookin’ good.”

The archeologist rolled her eyes then went into the changing room.

Ephiny’s excited expression dropped as she hurried to the changing room. “You’re not-”

“No,” snapped the archeologist. “I’m too hot in my goddamn pants and shirt. I’m stuck lookin’ stupid in these… leathers.”

The Amazon jumped aside when the small woman charged out. “Hey.” She caught Janice by the wrist. “You look great, I’m not teasing.”

Janice hesitated and her temper deflated. “Thanks… thanks for the help.”

Ephiny now smiled some but it grew when Janice couldn’t contain her smile. “Alright, let’s take your stuff back to your hut then we’ll start training again.”

True to Ephiny’s word, the pair returned to the sparring fields and continued training for the day. Janice was amazed at the difference she felt just by changing outfits. She wasn’t as hot and she didn’t feel as slow. It seemed to make all the difference in the world and even Ephiny noticed it too.

The weapons master arrived a couple of candlemarks later and stood on the edge of the field. She carefully watched her friend train the stranger. She knew they were starting with defensive training as Ephiny already went over the proper stances and mechanics yesterday.

Eponin turned her head to Solari, who quietly appeared.

“Is that Ephiny training Janice?” Solari was amazed.

“Yup.”

Solari crossed her arms over her chest. “Is Janice wearing Amazon leathers?”

“Yup.”

“Does the queen know?”

“Yup.”

“You don’t like this, do you?”

Eponin grunted at Solari. “Nope.” She walked off towards Ephiny and Janice.

Solari brushed back a loose strand of brown hair. “Great.”

The proceeding days saw Janice in a lot of rigorous, nonstop training. Janice calculated it’d been three weeks since she’s shown up in the Amazon Nation. She was well healed, well fed, and almost trained with a sword. She was feeling more confident each day to take on the challenge of returning home. Ephiny could tell though that Janice was struggling with some plan to how to accomplish this. Even Ephiny knew it wouldn’t be so easy or simple and very dangerous. She’d never met Alti or the Conqueror but had certainly seen them from a distance and her skin crawled every time.

It was the twenty-second day and almost the full eighth day of sword training. Janice was on the sparring field engaging Eponin quite well.

The weapons master spotted Ephiny not far from the sidelines. She jumped back as Janice’s sword connected against hers. “Stop.”

Janice withdrew and lowered her sword.

Ephiny quickly hurried up to the pair, her eyes centered on Janice though. “I believe you’re ready.”

The archeologist opened her mouth to ask about what but hesitated.

Eponin left the pair.

Ephiny unsheathed her sword and faced her opponent. “To keep your promise.”

Janice now understood the implications so she spun her sword very gracefully compared her first time ever trying. “Just tell me when you give up, featherhead.”

The Amazon laughed and pointed the tip of her sword at Janice. “Only after you surrender… Janny.”

That did it for the archeologist; she went blazing in with her sword and blindly swiping at Ephiny.

Ephiny easily pared each uncalculated attack. When she found her opening, she attacked Janice quickly.

The archeologist was caught off guard so she ended up stumbling back. She shook off her earlier temper knowing it just made up for her misjudgments. She hastily reformulated a plan in her head while she busied Ephiny.

The Amazon jumped back when the sword tip almost hit her stomach. Her wild amber eyes met Janice.

Janice smirked at having almost caught Ephiny. “I’m not that easy, Eph.”

“We’ll see,” challenged the Amazon. She gave a battlecry and took a swipe at Janice’s feet.

The archeologist lowered her sword, her blade connected with Ephinys, and she tried something new by kicking at Ephiny.

The Amazon hadn’t expected and the boot smashed into her chest. She went stumbling back and coughing to get the air back in her lungs. “Hera’s tits.”

“What’s the matter, Ephy? You can’t keep up?” Janice laughed evilly then signaled for Ephiny to attack her.

The Amazon took the invite with an upward thrust of her sword at her opponent. She brought her sword and body tightly against Janice, her face in Janice’s. “Not bad, Jan. You’re improving afterall.”

The archeologist had a coy smile. “I’ve learned faster than you did.”

Ephiny laughed then suddenly withdrew her sword and spun around Janice.

The archeologist hadn’t expected this but she her senses told her what was coming. She hunched down just as the blade came over her head. She quickly rolled away and bounced up onto her feet with her sword up. “I’ll have to remember that move.”

“Do that.” Ephiny was smirking and waving the tip of her sword at Janice. “Come on.”

Janice inhaled deeply then charged her opponent. She listened to her body’s movement and her newly trained eye understood Ephiny’s ever movement by how her muscles flexed and relaxed. She was able to anticipate every move that Ephiny tried and failed.

The battling pair fell into a hypnotic dance of fighting. Their swords clanged rhythmically and their breathing was matched. Ephiny was quite pleased with Janice’s accomplishments. She knew Janice wasn’t a master with the sword but she certainly could hold her own now. It would only take outside forces and experience to hone Janice’s skills, which hopefully wouldn’t kill her first.

Janice gave out a cry suddenly, which broke the spell between her and Ephiny. She gave an abrupt kick that landed on Ephiny’s sword hand. She’d seen this move a few days ago but didn’t think she’d execute it right.

Ephiny yelped from the pain and her eyes watched as her sword went flying up, over, and smashed into the dirt a hundred paces away. Her astonished face turned back to Janice but she tensed up when the sword tip was at her neck.

Janice was smug, her eyes burning, and her breathing heavy. “Now do you yield?”

The Amazon slowly smiled. “Yes.” She relaxed when Janice pulled the blade away. “Where did you learn that move?”

The archeologist shrugged while sheathing her weapon behind her back. “I saw an Amazon do it the other day. I didn’t think it’d work.”

“Well it did.” Ephiny went to her sword and collected it. She easily sheathed it then faced her charge. “I think that’s enough for today.”

Janice was glad to hear those words. “Great. I’m starved too.” She gazed over at the low western sun.

Ephiny nodded. “Dinner won’t be long.” She swept her curly locks from her face when Janice approached her.

“Is it possible for me to talk to the queen tomorrow?”

The Amazon suddenly went serious at this request. “About what?”

“I want to talk to her about that scepter and how I can get to it.” Janice shifted on her feet some. “I want to see if the Nation will help.”

Ephiny swallowed down the forming worry in her throat. “I’ll ask her… see if she’ll meet with you.”

“Thanks, Eph.” Janice patted the Amazon’s moist, bare stomach then headed off.

The Amazon rotated as her charge headed off. She sighed while muttering, “No problem.” She shrugged off her sour mood and hurried over to Janice, Eponin, and Solari.

“Nice job, Janice,” honored Solari.

“Thanks.” Janice had a winning grin. “I’m not Hercules but I think I got it.”

“Hercules?” repeated the befuddled Solari.

Ephiny too was confused because Janice said it as if they should know who that person was.

The archeologist searched all three Amazon’s faces and realized they weren’t joking. How was it possible for them to not know Hercules? Even if he was myth, which was proven he wasn’t, they would still know the tales about him. Janice was completely at a loss. “Hercules… the son of Zeus? He’s a legendary hero.”

The three Amazons exchange questioning faces then shook their heads.

Janice’s jaw dropped. “He stole Hippolyta’s girdle in the stories?”

Solari was shaking her head then finally said, “I’ve never heard of him, Janice. Nobody ever stole the magical girdle of Hippolyta.”

Janice, for once, stared at the Amazons like they were Medusa.

“I take it we’re suppose to know him,” spoke up Ephiny.

The archeologist touched her warm forehead and tried to comprehend what could have happened. Some things were making sense in history while others were absolutely wrong. She pushed her bangs back onto her head then dropped her hand to her side again. “This doesn’t make any sense.”

“There are no heroes anymore, Janice,” informed Solari.

“Just the Conqueror,” stated Eponin in a cold tone.

“The hell there is,” she spat hotly and stormed off.

Solari cringed and looked at her friends. “That’s not good.”

Ephiny gave a brief complaint about this happening too often. She excused herself from her friends then hurried to catch the angered archeologist. She slowed down at Janice’s side then curtly stated, “You get angry too easy.”

“I’m a little more than angry,” chewed out the stranger.

“I’ve noticed.” Ephiny went silent for a few heartbeats hoping it would calm Janice. She then decided to try again. “If you get angry all the time, you’ll never have any good judgment.”

The archeologist came to a fast stop.

Ephiny was amazed by how calm Janice suddenly seemed.

“None of this adds up, Ephiny,” whispered the archeologist. “Xena was never meant to be a ruler. I don’t know anything about some evil shaman named Alti. And instead I know more about Hercules than all this cockamamie bullshit.” She stepped closer to the Amazon and murmured, “This is not how its suppose to be.”

Ephiny was relieved that her charge was more open now. “But this is how the known-world is, Janice.”

The archeologist arguments went blank in her mind. It was the first time Ephiny ever called her by her proper name, she realized. “You’re right,” she finally agreed quietly. Several of the pieces fell into place in Janice’s mind. “You’ll talk to the queen?”

“Yes,” promised Ephiny. “I’ll do it now then I’ll meet you at the dining hut to tell you her answer.”

“Alright, great.” Janice smiled finally. “I think I need to talk to somebody.” She moved around her keeper and started her short journey to the temple that they’d stopped in front of.

Ephiny watched her charge climb the steps but she wouldn’t ask. She merely went on her search for the queen.

Janice threw open the temple door and raged down to the other end where there was a praying figure. She came to a quick stop.

“Janice, welcome.” The priestess rose up and faced the small woman. “Is there something you require?”

The strange dipped her head in respect for the priestess. “I need to talk to Yakut.”

Priestess Idola smiled softly. “I believe she is free. Follow me.” She led Janice through a side door into a short hallway. She stopped at a door and knocked on it.

The shaman lifted her head when her counterpart and the archeologist entered. “Janice,” she greeted.

“I need to talk to you.”

Yakut could tell it was serious by Janice’s clipped tone. She nodded to Idola.

The priestess drifted out of the office with the door closing behind her.

As soon as the door was shut, Janice came up to the desk and grabbed the edge. “You know why Alti brought me here, don’t you?”

Yakut remained still and silent as she searched Janice’s face. “Yes,” she finally admitted. She gradually lowered her body back to the chair, her hand going out to the chairs in front of her desk. “Sit down.”

Janice pulled away from the desk and walked away while saying, “I need to stand.” She came around one of the chairs and grasped the backside of it. “Tell me why the hell she brought me here? And I don’t want to hear any bullshit either.”

The shaman could tell the stranger was figuring this out. She couldn’t hold her silence any longer nor did she like it from the beginning. “You first have to understand Alti’s source of power.”

Janice was pacing and listening at the same time.

“Alti draws her power mostly from fear… hatred or anything evil. It is because of the Conqueror that she is so powerful now.”

The archeologist stopped and faced the shaman. “So if she lost the Conqueror somehow then she’d lose power as well?”

“For the most part, yes. She also harnesses her strength greatly from the souls she’s captured.”

“What kind of souls?” questioned the pacing archeologist.

“Dark souls, weak ones, and powerful ones,” answered the shaman. “There are only a few… what we call white souls. Those are the souls that Alti fears because they are self-sacrificing… they’re from the Light.”

Janice had her head dipped down, her eyes unfocused, and her thoughts quick. “What am I?” She stopped and gazed at the shaman.

Yakut leaned against her desk. “You are in the middle, Janice but a few turn of events could lead you either way.”

Janice stepped up to Yakut. “There’s a path, I agree but I’m still fated one way or the other.”

The shaman rocked back into her chair. “You are correct.” After a long pause she finally answered, “You’re fated for the Light. You’ve only begun to touch into your self-sacrificing role.” She tilted her head to the side. “This is your legacy… for generations now.”

“I’m starting to figure that out,” complained the gruff woman. “But why would Alti bring me here when I’m a threat?”

Yakut let out a sigh because she wasn’t a hundred percent sure why. “I believe to destroy your soul completely and end your karma.”

Janice straightened up and suddenly backed up until she was sitting in a chair finally. “Shit… that’s serious.” She pushed her bangs back but her attention returned to Yakut. “Why me? There has to be other white souls out there besides me. You said it yourself.”

“Yes,” slowly agree the shaman, “but none are bound to the Conqueror’s like yours.”

“If my soul and the Conqueror’s are linked then doesn’t Alti fear I could… change her?”

Yakut released a large sigh as she tried thinking out to explain this part. “It is a gamble,” agree Yakut. “Alti is confident that the Conqueror will stop you. The Conqueror has already stopped Gabrielle.”

“Who’s also linked to the Conqueror,” concluded the archeologist. “Alti gains an immeasurably amount of power from the Conqueror killing Gabrielle, didn’t she?”

“She will,” corrected the shaman.

“Will? I thought she was dead.”

Yakut shook her head. “I doubt it but I am sure she will die in the next day or two. She may even today. Death on a cross is very painful and slow.”

Janice swallowed because she knew how people truly died on crosses. It wasn’t just from starvation or dehydration but a human’s intestines and organs began to weigh too much. Very slowly the organs and intestines collapse to the bottom of the body and kill them. It was a painful way to die and the worst sensation to finally feel your insides give way. A shiver rippled up Janice’s spine at the thought.

“When Alti receives word about Gabrielle’s death, she will then order her body back from the fields. Alti will take some of her blood and then take her soul.”

“I thought she feared souls from the Light?” Janice was lost again, her brow furrowed together.

Yakut slowly nodded. “Yes, when they are not in her control but if she can take them… then she’ll have great power. When they are not in her control, she cannot stop them but only fight them. She uses the Conqueror to kill not only their bodies but their hearts.”

Janice quietly groaned and slumped in the chair. “So why exactly would Alti want me to face the Conqueror?”

“It is her guarantee.” The shaman reached up and removed her antlered headdress. She placed it on the left corner of her desk. “If she can control your karma in both the future and past then you’ll never threaten her relationship with the Conqueror.”

“Wouldn’t she have control of my karma once Gabrielle dies?”

Yakut let out a hefty breath because of all the details of shamanism. “Yes, in theory but Alti is not that strong… yet. She is close to it.”

“But if she can get the jump on my karma then she’ll have ultimate control of several lifetimes?” At seeing Yakut’s nod, the archeologist straightened up in the hard chair. “What about the Conqueror’s karma? I mean, can’t she break from Alti even if my karma is… not mine?”

Yakut shook her head then explained, “The Conqueror and Gabrielle’s karmas are linked and they are a balance of one another. One cannot exist without the other… without Darkness there is no Light and-”

“Without Light there is no Darkness,” concluded Janice. “So if Alti can control my karma… Gabrielle’s karma then she has more power and controls the Conqueror’s. Its like killing two birds with one stone.”

“Essentially yes.”

“We have to stop her, Yakut,” announced the stranger.

The shaman’s gaze faltered. “It isn’t that simple, Janice.” Her saddened eyes lifted again. “Alti has claimed too much power for anybody to stop her. And if the Conqueror is willing to kill her soulmate then there is nothing left.”

Janice bounced up onto her feet. “There has to be something.”

Yakut was now slumping in her chair. “I’m sorry, Janice.”

“Well sorry isn’t fucking good enough.” Janice suddenly pointed off to her right with her arm stretched out. “You can’t let that fucked up shaman run this world. You can’t just sit here and do nothing!”

The shaman suddenly rose up and faced the stranger to this world. “You don’t think I want to, Janice? I hate everyday of my gods’ forsaken life because I can’t do anything to stop her… either of them.” She paused then sadly added, “If Gabrielle could not stop them then nobody can.”

“Fuck that,” spat Janice, “I’ll stop them.” She made her quick exit of the shaman’s office as her temper was too large to remain there anymore.

Yakut remained paralyzed by the discussion, her knuckles white against her desk.

Ephiny was waiting outside the temple after just talking to the queen. She wanted to see if Janice was still here or not and she stunned when the fuming archeologist erupted through the temple doors.

Janice stalked down the steps and came right up to Ephiny. “Did you know?”

The Amazon stepped back at seeing the fiery green eyes. “Knew what?”

“Why Alti brought me here?”

Ephiny’s face was constructed with confusion.

The archeologist sighed and murmured, “Yakut knew why Alti brought me here.” The queen most likely knew too, concluded Janice.

“I didn’t know at all, Janice.” The Amazon calmed some. “The queen will see you in the morning.”

“Good,” growled the hot archeologist, who started off to the dining hut.

Ephiny hurried along the fast paced stranger. “There’s a catch though.”

Janice huffed and eyed her keeper. “What’s that?”

“You’re meeting the council too. I think the council wants to hear your plans.”

“Just… perfect.” The archeologist’s shoulders dropped and she furiously pulled her fingers through her hair. “I’m thrilled.”

Ephiny could tell the archeologist was truly angry and she could imagine why. Most likely Janice felt deceived by the queen but she knew too that it was never the queen’s intent. Still though, Ephiny could understand Janice’s view, which didn’t even settle well with Ephiny. Ephiny was starting to question some things herself.
Chapter 3 – To Corinth!

Queen Cyane stood up when Janice stalked into the meeting hut with Ephiny behind her. “Welcome, Janice.”

The archeologist only gave a cold nod.

Ephiny slipped up against the wall where there were several other officials in the room.

Janice took in the scene of the eight Amazons at the wood table. She counted seven council members running down the sides of the table but the queen was at the head of the table.

“You may sit if you wish, Janice.” The queen held her hand towards the seat at the other end of the table.

“I’m fine thanks,” curtly replied the archeologist.

Cyane decided to start the meeting with an explanation. “As you all know, Janice was found within our territory… unconscious, burned, and with cuts. She has since healed and also been taught the sword thanks to Ephiny and Master Eponin.” She stopped and studied the tense archeologist. “Now she wishes to be on her way. Janice?”

Ephiny licked her lips and the Amazon beside her, she noticed, was very interested on what was about to be said this morning.

Janice Covington grasped the top of the chair that she stood behind. She’d spoken in many conferences in her past but this was quite different. Still she reached in for her confidence and began speaking. “I am not from here… I’m not from this time. I am a stranger… to everybody and everything. I was brought here by Alti.” She hesitated when the meeting hut filled with a din of chatting.

Cyane held up her hand for silence and everybody obeyed.

“The only way I can get home is by getting the Conqueror’s scepter that she has. To do that, I need to go to Corinth.”

The queen dipped her head some but she asked, “And do you have a plan, Janice?”

“I wouldn’t say a concrete plan but I have some ideas… I won’t know until I get there.”

The council members began talking amongst themselves then one spoke up louder than the rest.

“How can you be sure you’ll find this scepter?”

Janice slightly grinned. “I doubt Alti went through all this trouble just to get rid of it. She has it.”

“And do you realize who Alti is… what the Conqueror is capable of?”

The archeologist slowly nodded. “I do.”

“You should be fearful of them,” stated an older council member. “They are not to be taken lightly.”

Janice huffed. “You want to know something?” She straightened up from leaning against the chair. “I am fearful of the Conqueror… of Alti, just like you all.” Her eyes searched all the faces of the Amazons then she loudly stated, “But the difference between me and you, is that my fear gives me courage to face them and not hide.” She squared her shoulders as every Amazon in the hut called out in protest. She inhaled sharply and spoke very loudly over the chatting. “There is a famous quote from my time….” When the Amazons went silent at her voice, she continued. “It was said by a… bard from Britannia known as Edmund Burke. He said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

There was a loud clamor of voices in the meeting hut at Janice’s words.

The Amazon Queen ordered everybody silent then she took the floor. “And what would you have us do, Janice? Should I send my three hundred warriors to Corinth to battle legion after legion of hoplites? They do not call the Conqueror the Destroyer of Nations for no reason.”

“I don’t ask that,” refuted the archeologist, “that would be suicide. I am asking you to help me stop Alti… she is just as much of a threat to the Conqueror as she is to us.”

“And the Conqueror protects her,” reminded a council member. “To stop one you must stop the other.”

Janice now flashed a grin. “Not if you can separate them.”

“How do you expect to do that?” challenged the queen.

“If that scepter can bring me here then it can take me further into the past.” The archeologist’s eyes were lit up by an idea. “I can travel back to when Alti and the Conqueror first met… and stop Alti.”

“This is absolutely ludicrous!” called out a council member.

Then a lone figure in the corner behind the queen stepped up by the queen. “If you go back to when Alti and the Conqueror met and change history, the affects could be devastating.”

Janice’s gaze settled on the shaman by the queen’s side. “I think I rather take my chances.”

Yakut held up a hand at Janice to hold her tongue. “Even if you kill Alti before she met the Conqueror, the Conqueror will still rule the known-world… with or without Alti.” Her hand dropped to her side again. “The only difference is that the Conqueror will be even more ruthless than now. She will not have Alti there for insurance so instead she’ll make her own… one death after another.”

“Then the Conqueror is fated to be the ruler?” questioned a council member.

Yakut nodded her head. “She is fated to be the Conqueror… it is her karma in this lifetime.”

That was a big help, mentally complained Janice, who was trying every direction to come up with a reason why the Amazons needed to help her.

“You’re running out of ideas here, Janice.” The queen’s dark brown eyes returned to the small woman at the other end. “You must accept that certain things are destined in this world.”

“I won’t accept that I’m meant to be here,” argued Janice. She threw up her hand for a second and demanded, “Give me a contingent of Amazons to help me get the scepter.”

The Amazon Queen shook her head. “I will not needlessly endanger Amazons’ lives for a vain chase for a scepter. You have no plan, you have no knowledge of where this scepter is, and you have no power against Alti. You’re walking into your own grave.”

Ephiny could tell how desperate her charge was to work this out. Something in Ephiny gave in and she stepped forward, next to Janice. “My queen, my sword has always been the Nation’s but I ask that I may escort Janice safely to Corinth.” She heard several council members’ murmurs. “We can at least safely escort her to there if nothing else. It would seem Janice’s own fate is to face the Conqueror and Alti… with or without us.”

Queen Cyane slowly sighed as she had an internal struggle. She saw the council members didn’t seem to be disagreeing with the offer, especially since it came form one of the best warriors in the Nation. She let out a huge sigh then gradually nodded. “Your wish is granted, Ephiny however you must take five other competent Amazons with you. You will take Janice as close to Corinth as possible without endangering your lives. All six of you are expected to return safely.”

Ephiny solemnly nodded because she knew this was all that could be done for Janice. It wasn’t much but maybe it was a start. “Thank you, my queen.”

“This meeting is dismissed then.” Cyane remained still in her chair as everybody filtered out of the hut. She finally got up and made her way to the door as well.

Janice remained still and quiet beside Ephiny, her head slightly hung down and her grip tight on the top of the chair. Her anger wasn’t helping her and she knew it but she couldn’t believe that this Nation was so scared. She straightened up just as Yakut came near them. “Thanks for the help, Yakut,” shot the angry archeologist.

Yakut stopped next to Janice. She stared at her with a worn, saddened face then without a word she walked by and left the hut.

Ephiny and Janice were the only ones left.

Ephiny stepped closer and lightly touched the small woman’s bare shoulder. “I’m sorry, Janice.”

“No.” The archeologist shook her head then lifted it. “You did more than anybody else, Ephiny. Thank you.”

Yet the Amazon felt as if she failed despite she was able to provide Janice with some protection. “Come on, we’ll do some sparring to work that temper off.”

Janice ran her fingers through her hair. “Christ… I think you’re starting to figure me out, Eph.”

Ephiny snorted as she made her way out of the hut. “Gods strike me dead now.”

Janice laughed and playful swatted her keeper. “Hardy har har.”

The pair found their way to the sparring fields and practiced for most of the day. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that Solari showed up from finishing patrol duty. She caught the tail end of the practice between Janice and Ephiny but when the pair neared her, she could tell Janice was worn out.

“I’m sorry about this morning,” offered Solari.

“You heard already?” inquired Ephiny.

Solari just nodded then peered down at Janice. “I would like to escort you to Corinth.”

The archeologist now smiled at the offer. “Thank you… that’d be great, Solari.”

The Amazon mirrored the smile back. “There are already many other Amazons that wish to take you. I am sure that Ephiny will help you select them.”

“How many?” interjected Ephiny.

Solari stared up at the cloudy sky as she did a quick estimation. “I’d say at least fifty.” Her head bobbed a few times. “Right around there.”

“Wow,” murmured the shocked archeologist.

“There are many behind you.” Solari clasped Janice’s shoulder. “Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do without the queen’s word.”

“I understand,” softly spoke Janice.

“I do have one concerned,” started Solari, “The people of Corinth may think you’re Gabrielle.”

Ephiny’s eyes widened at realizing this. “I didn’t even think about that.”

“Damn,” muttered Janice. “That could cause a stir.”

“Yes,” confirmed Ephiny, “as many people saw Gabrielle. They would take you for her instantly.”

“Damn it,” hissed Janice.

Solari held up her hands. “Now wait, there may be a way to stop that… at least not catch their attention.” She lowered her hands to her side. “It may help if we change your hairstyle, Janice… maybe the color too. At least you won’t look exactly like Gabrielle other than your facial features.”

“And height and eye color and-”

“We get the point,” cut in Ephiny. “But Solari is right, at least this way the people really won’t recognize you. Once you’re up close and personal with the Conqueror that’ll be another thing.”

“And you’re just in luck.” Solari beamed a huge smile. “I happen to be great at cutting hair and coloring it.”

The archeologist eyed Solari very suspiciously. “Just what did you have in mind? I’m funny about my damn hair.”

“Solari is good with hair,” promised Ephiny. She then grabbed a lock of Janice’s strawberry hair. “Besides you could do with a change it looks like.”

“Hey!” Janice yanked her hair free. “Want me to pull on your curls, Eph?” She glowered up at the Amazon.

Ephiny shrugged and smirked.

Janice turned back to Solari. “Fine. Just don’t make me look dumb.”

Solari smirked but it was Ephiny that said it first.

“You’re already that.”

Janice suddenly yelled and came at Ephiny.

The Amazon was prepared and she jumped away with her hands up. “Now who helped you this morning, Janny?”

The archeologist was seething, her eyes were slits and her teeth bore at the Amazon.

Solari covered her mouth with her hand as she chuckled at the pair. She pulled her hand away and licked her lips but kept every comment behind her mouth. She cleared her throat though when Janice took a menacing step towards Ephiny. “Maybe we should start getting you ready, Janice. The sooner it’s done the sooner you can head off.”

This seemed to stop the archeologist. She straightened up to her short height and nodded at Solari. “Alright.”

The two Amazons and Janice started back to the village but Solari spoke up first between them.

“We need to stop at the healer’s hut. Eilis has some paste that I can use to change your hair color.”

Janice gave Solari a dangerous look. “What color?”

“It’ll make your hair blonder.”

The archeologist tilted her head. “Why not just use lemons?”

“Lemons?” repeated Ephiny.

Janice laughed as it struck her. “I forgot, Ancient Greece doesn’t know about citrus fruits.”

“Citrus fruits?” Solari shook her head. “We have grapes, apples, pears… figs.”

“No, citrus fruits are lemons, oranges, limes, or grapefruit.” Janice ran through her educated mind then further explained. “They come from Chin but they don’t make it here for some time.”

“Oranges?” murmured Ephiny as if she knew the word. “It sounds familiar.”

“It’s possible some royalty has them,” argued Janice. “Just not the common people or much of the upper class.”

A dramatic exhale came from Solari. “Probably the Conqueror has had them.”

“I’ll be sure to ask her when I meet her,” joked Janice.

Solari grinned at the joke. She then spotted the healer’s hut just ahead so she said, “Stay here while I get the stuff.” She hurried ahead while Ephiny and Janice waited for her.

“What’s this stuff she’s using anyway?”

Ephiny shrugged. “I don’t think even Solari knows.”

“Nice,” muttered Janice.

Solari jumped down the last step but both her hands carefully carried the jar of something. “Alright, let’s go to my hut.”

“Lead the way then,” offered Janice.

The band continued their trek to the opposite side of the village. They eventually ended up in Solari’s hut and Ephiny took a seat while Solari worked her magic. She’d seen the hair color change trick once before but the hairstyles were Solari’s specialty.

Solari grabbed the second chair by Ephiny and placed it in away from everything. “Sit here,” she ordered. As Janice got comfortable, Solari put the jar down on the table next to Ephiny then went into the washroom.

The archeologist turned her head to Ephiny and caught the huge smirk. “What?” she bit out.

Ephiny chuckled, shook her head, and kept her silence for safety reasons.

Janice rolled her eyes and twisted her lead to the right when Solari arrived with two short blades. She instantly swallowed.

Solari placed one blade down by the mystery jar. She came behind Janice and wiped the small blade across her skirt. “Any requests?”

Janice turned her head sidelong as she tried to gauge Solari’s seriousness.

“Yeah,” spoke up Ephiny, “Shave it all off.”

Janice glowered at her keeper but she ordered, “Wait.” She stood up and lifted her sheath strapped over her head. “I think I’ll need to be comfortable for this.” She threw the sword in sheath at Ephiny.

The Amazon neatly caught it and carefully lowered it to the floor by her feet. “Chop away, Solari.”

An audible groan left the archeologist but she was ready.

Solari held the blade up over Janice’s head yet she hesitated as her mind worked out a mental image of a haircut style. She suddenly grinned wildly and began.

Janice quietly whimpered then closed her eyes when she saw a clump of hair fall before her eyes.

Solari tilted Janice’s head to the right and continued carefully cutting the hair away. She occasionally would stop, walk around to the front, judging things, and continue her cutting. After half a candlemark, she stopped for a long moment and carefully judged the style. She realized she needed to balance it just a bit better so after a few more trimmings she had it perfect. “There.”

Janice slowly opened her eyes but she didn’t want to see yet. She decided instead to gauge it off of Ephiny’s reaction.

Solari stepped out of the way.

Ephiny had a clear view. She blinked the gaped. “Sweet Artemis.” She glanced at her friend. “You’re going to color her hair too?”

“Yup.”

“It’s that bad huh?’ complained Janice.

Ephiny smirked. “You’ll see.”

Solari came over to the table and grabbed up the jar. “Okay, its easiest if your hair is wet, Janice. Go in the washroom, I filled up a bowl with water.”

The archeologist nodded in understanding. She went into the washroom.

Ephiny grinned at her friend. “It looks good, Solari.”

The other Amazon winked. “Thanks… I’ve always had a knack for this.” When Janice came back with wet, not dripping, hair she signaled her to sit again. She had the jar open and placed it in Janice’s lap. “Hold it.”

The archeologist sighed and cupped the jar in her hands.

Solaris’s hands were already coated in the white paste material. She quickly began working it through Janice’s hair. Occasionally she would stop and get more of the paste until she was satisfied that Janice’s hair was well coated in the stuff.

Janice lifted the jar to her nose and the powerful, burning smell made her jump back some. “Wooo.”

The Amazon laughed and teased, “Now you know how I feel right now.” Solari finished up then quickly moved away so she could get some fresh air. “Just let it sit for a quarter of a candlemark.”

Janice eyebrows tied together as she stared at the two Amazons by each other. “Quarter of a candlemark?”

The Amazons exchanged glances.

“Just stay there until I tell you,” commanded Solari. She then decided she needed to clean her hands so she vanished into the washroom.

“Eph, can you take this damn jar.”

The Amazon chuckled, came over, and collected the offending object from the stranger. She put the lid back on yet made sure to push it away too.

Solari came back out of the washroom then came up behind Janice. She took a deep gulp of air and held it while she reached up with her thumb and index finger. She easily pulled some of the paste away from Janice’s hair so she could note the color change. “Not much longer.”

Janice blew at her nose to get the smell out. “I hope not. This stuff is retched.”

Solari moved away but not without a laugh. “The dyes they use for hair is much better than this stuff.”

“I bet.” Janice grumbled and drummed her right hand against her knee. She suddenly realized that Melinda would be struck dumb when they see each other again. At the thought of Melinda, Janice became grim and wondered what the tall southerner was doing right now. She inwardly grunted, as if Melinda is even alive right now, she chided mentally.

Ephiny was bent forward and staring directly at Janice. She read the flickering emotions across her charge’s features and she could only guess what it was all about. She knew they weren’t good thoughts going through the archeologist’s mind.

“Alright,” broke Solari’s voice through the silence. “Go wash it out of your hair.”

Janice was more than happy to do that as she hurried to the bathroom.

“There should be a small towel there too,” called Solari. She then knelt down beside her friend and whispered, “I’m worried about her making it.”

Ephiny licked her lips but her eyes were locked on the washroom entrance. “Me too.”

“She can’t beat Alti, Ephiny… it’s impossible.”

Ephiny was biting her lower lip as she finally gazed over to her friend. “She doesn’t have to beat her… just get around her so she can go home.”

“Not the way she’s talking, Ephiny. She wants to stop the Conqueror and Alti.”

“I know,” murmured the worried Amazon.

Solari suddenly stood up when Janice came out of the washroom with the towel in hand and drying her hair still.

The archeologist pulled the towel away as she approached the Amazons. “Alright, how does it look now?” She straightened her hair out until it felt comfortable.

“Wow you’re as blond as you are dumb,” joked Ephiny. She was suddenly attacked by a damp towel in the face.

Janice pointed a dangerous finger at the Amazon. “I really hate you some times.”

“And love me at other times,” tormented Ephiny. She tossed the towel onto the table.

The archeologist didn’t argue but she didn’t agree either. “Alright Solari, what’s your opinion?” She knew this would be an honest one.

Solari stepped up to the stranger and smiled happily at her. “You look hot, Janice.” She thoroughly enjoyed the blush that crept down Janice’s face and over her neck. She played with Janice’s damp, blond hair.

Ephiny sat back and enjoyed the scene. She actually liked the new style a lot as Janice’s hair was a soft blond, her bangs were still there. The rest of the style was short in the back yet longer compared to the front in a cropped, v shape. She finally pushed her body out of the seat and come up to Janice. “You don’t look like such a kid now.”

The archeologist had her hands on her hips. “Are you done, Eph?”

“Never,” promised the Amazon.

Janice rolled her eyes as her hands fell from her sides. “Seriously, how’s it look?”

Ephiny let out her smile that she’d been holding back the entire time. “You look real good, Janice.”

The archeologist was playing with her hair more but she halted and smiled back at Ephiny. “Thanks… Ephiny.”

Solari suddenly reached behind and unsheathed her sword. She held it in front of Janice then tilted it until she felt Janice could see her own reflection.

The archeologist reached up to steadied the blade then she saw the hairstyle. She laughed at the immense change as she didn’t just look older but like another person. “Looookin’ good!”

Ephiny and Solari laughed together at the stranger’s smartass joke. Solari sheathed her sword expertly as Janice faced them now.

“We should work on who to take,” seriously stated Ephiny. “Then maybe tomorrow we can get the queen’s approval to go.”

The archeologist nodded her agreement.

Ephiny turned to her best friend. “Who volunteered to go?”

“Well….” Solari picked up the chair that Janice had been using earlier. “Here.” She held the chair out to Janice.

Janice took the chair by the ladder back side and carried it to the other one.

“Go sit down,” offered Solari to Janice and Ephiny. As they sat down, Solari took the time to sweep up the mess with a bristle broom that’d been in her washroom. “So far I’ve heard from Amarice.”

“Too young,” countered Ephiny.

“The princess wishes to go,” informed Solari. She swept the hair towards her front door but hesitated and looked at Ephiny.

“Terreis?”

Solari smirked at her best friend. “Well what other princess would I be talking about?” She opened her front door and pushed the hair out.

“Who’s Terreis?” inquired Janice from across Ephiny.

Ephiny glanced at her charger. “She’s from Melosa’s Nation… she’s Melosa’s sister.”

“Melosa?” tried Janice.

Solari turned back after closing the door, broom in hand. “Ephiny, Eponin, and I are from Melosa’s Nation.”

“I thought this was the only Nation left?” countered Janice.

“It is,” explained Ephiny, “but this Nation is a mix between Queen Melosa’s and Queen Cyane’s… this is all that remains. Melosa and Cyane joined forces in the last battle against the Conqueror… we barely survived and Melosa was killed.”

“At the time Queen Cyane didn’t have a princess selected so Princess Terreis took that position when the Nations joined.” Solari went into the washroom but when she came out she added, “Most of Queen Melosa’s Amazons are behind you, Janice.”

“How many are there?” inquired Janice.

“At least half the Nation,” explained Ephiny.

Solari strolled over and sat on the foot of her bed, her feet just dangling off. “Queen Melosa raised her Nation with an iron fist. She taught us never to back down from a fight.”

“Queen Cyane isn’t the same?” tried Janice.

Ephiny negatively shook her head. “Queen Cyane believes in diplomatic affairs first then war.” She gazed at her best friend. “Who else has offered?”

“Let’s see…” Solari held up her hand and ticked off each finger as she said the names that stuck out. “Eponin, if she could. Velasca. Callisto. Vara. Medora. Tanya. Calandra. Otere. And plenty of others.” She dropped her hand to her lap.

“Callisto?” squeaked Janice. Two questioning Amazons stared at her. “Is she a tall, white-blond that’s really skinny?”

“That is her,” agreed Ephiny. “Why?”

The archeologist shifted uneasily in her seat. “I’ve read a scroll about her… she hates Xena but it never mentioned her being an Amazon. She was actually a warlord.”

Solari’s face was twisted by confusion and staring at Ephiny.

Ephiny shrugged but stated, “Callisto is a competent Amazon and an accomplished warrior. She came to the Nation when we saved her from slavery. Her home was destroyed by the Conqueror seasons back, her family killed.”

Janice was biting her lower lip because she knew this was definitely the same Callisto, well almost. She figured it was best to remain on the topic at hand. “So who should we take?”

“Well if we take the princess we can’t take Velasca.”

“Why’s that?” questioned Janice to Solari.

Ephiny smirked. “They don’t get along at all. Velasca was Melosa’s adapted daughter and Princess Terreis argued with her sister about adopting her. Melosa ignored her and took in Velasca.”

“Their personalities just don’t click,” explained Solari. “Well the princess seemed more adamant about going compared to Velsca.”

“Then she goes,” agreed Ephiny.

“Callisto?” questioned Solari. When Ephiny nodded her head she tried, “Vara?”

“One more.” Ephiny leaned back and offered, “Otere?”

“She’s quick and she’s fast,” reminded Solari, “Almost like me.”

Ephiny chuckled and nodded her head.

“So you…” Janice pointed at Ephiny then at Solari, “and you, Callisto, the princess, Vara, and Otere?” She suddenly shot up from the chair. “Let’s go see Queen Cyane.” She tried to move out but Ephiny’s hand caught the back of her leather skirt and yanked her back.

“Not so fast, Janny. We need to check with them first.”

Janice exhaled dramatically then snapped, “Let’s go ask them then.”

Solari bounced up onto her feet. “You heard her, Eph… Ephiny.”

Ephiny quickly stood up and pointed a finger at her best friend. “And don’t you start with me too!” She picked up Janice’s sheathed sword and slammed it against Janice’s chest, which effectively knocked the wind out of Janice. “Let’s go.”

Janice put the sword over her back and shifted closer to Solari. “Nice job, Solar.” She made a hasty retreat after her jest.

Solari narrowed her eyes at Janice’s back and hurried after the pair.

By the next day in the early afternoon, Janice and her volunteer band of Amazons were starting their journey out of the gates of the Nation. Ephiny was in charge of the party with Solari’s help. They all rode horseback as it was much faster than a slow march. At first, Janice absolutely refused to ride a horse until she was green in the face at the thought of being so high up off the ground. Finally Ephiny basically threw the archeologist up onto one of the mares and threatened her to ride it. Although later on Ephiny found herself giving Janice a crash course in riding horseback but it was sufficient enough to get them to Corinth.

It was early evening and Ephiny ordered the party off the road and into clearing by a small stream. The other night she’d selected what Amazon to do what job during the camp setup and breakdown. Janice was amazed about how efficient and knowledgable the Amazons were about making and breaking camp. A part of her wished she could steal them all and take them back to Greece for her archeological digs.

Right now though, Janice was down by the lake and relaxing on top of a cool rock by the shore. She occasionally would bend down, pick up a stone, and throw it as far down the stream as she could. She sensed a crunch of a tree branch, which made her turn sharply in the direction. “Hey, Eph.”

The Amazon smiled as she approached her charge. “Any room?”

Janice understood what the Amazon meant so she scooted over and patted the rock. “Sure.”

Ephiny sat and propped her boots up against the rock. She too grabbed a few stones and idly tossed them into the stream. “Have you thought anymore about what you plan to do?”

“Not really,” confessed archeologist. “I’m just going into this blind.” She shook her head then roughly threw a stone. “I have no idea what this time is like or what I’m up against. I’ll just have to assess things as I go.”

There was a long silence with Ephiny’s head bent down in thought and Janice still throwing some pebbles.

“Have you considered not doing this?” Ephiny peered up at her charger.

Surprise immediately filled the archeologist at Ephiny’s question and somewhat confession. “Ephiny, there’s nothing here for me. I’m a stranger… in a… fuckin’ damn strange time.” She grunted and tossed another stone.

“Maybe so but maybe….” The Amazon shrugged the rest of her sentence off.

“Maybe what?” urged the archeologist. “Maybe I’m meant to be here?” She now sensed a smooth stone in her hand so she tried to skip it this time, which actually got the stone across to the other side of the stream. “This isn’t home for me, Ephiny.”

The Amazon sighed and lightly touched the bare knee next to hers. That got Janice’s attention on her. “It could be home.”

Janice stared at her keeper for some time as she tried to decipher what the Amazon was getting at with this conversation. “What is it? Seriously, Ephiny?”

The Amazon removed her lingering touch then confessed, “I couldn’t stand you when I first met you.” Despite Janice’s grunt of agreement she continued explaining. “And I know you feel out of place… a stranger.” Her crystal amber eyes held Janice’s for the first time. “But you’re not a stranger to me.”

Janice’s emotions instantly formed a lump in her throat, her eyes watery at the Ephiny’s words. “Thank you,” she whispered. “You’ve done a lot for me when all I’ve done is complain.”

Ephiny brushed back her curly locks that were in the way. “I’ll admit you’re good at that.” She mirrored the grin on Janice’s face but she lost it just as quickly. “You’d make a great Amazon though… once you got that temper thing worked out.”

The archeologist laughed and smiled at the Amazon. She lowered her head down while playing with her short hair for a second. “I have to try to at least, Ephiny because if I don’t… then it’ll haunt me forever.” She met Ephiny’s worried gaze. “I know I don’t know what I’m going against, I know the odds will kill me, and I know this is just plain stupid but I have to try.”

“I know,” whispered the Amazon. She collected Janice’s hands into her own. “Just don’t risk your life… too much.” At Janice’s curled grin she kept going. “You do have a home here too.” Ephiny released one of her hands and gently touched Janice’s right cheek. “And you do at least have one friend you can count on.”

The archeologist was surprised by the Amazon’s tenderness growing through. She slightly leaned her face in, her eyes glowing, and she caught Ephiny’s hand that was on her face. “Eph?”

“Yea?”

“I know I’m blond but… are you hitting on me?”

The Amazon cleared her throat and quietly answered, “You’re too much of a pain in the ass for me, Jan.” She saw that beautiful smirk she’d come to love on Janice’s face now.

“That’s what I like to hear.” Janice straightened up and put space between them. Her breathing was labored with how close she was to the Amazon.

Then something caught Ephiny’s sharp hearing and she quickly dissected herself from Janice just as Solari showed up.

Solari paused at seeing the pair on the stone, so close. She nervously pushed her hair back behind her ear and came closer to them. “Dinner is almost finished.”

Ephiny got up and faced her best friend. “What is for dinner?”

Solari remained poised on the small hill top. “Rabbit stew and flatbread.”

“Mmmmm,” rumbled Janice happily.

Solari grinned at the archeologist’s excitement about dinner. “Hurry up you two.” She turned and vanished in the tree line.

Janice came up beside her keeper. Well she’s a friend now, mentally corrected Janice. She placed her small hand on Ephiny’s mid back and whispered, “I think Solari is better suited for you.”

“You think so huh?” Ephiny’s amber eyes were light and teasing. “Wait, I heard a rumor.” She started the trek to camp.

Janice went along and also gave a curious look about this rumor. “Which was?”

“Something about Solari being called… Solar.”

The archeologist suddenly played dumb and tried very hard to think about this. “Now who in hell gave her that name?”

“I can not even begin to imagine,” chided the Amazon.

Solari saw the pair finally returned and she already had their food ready. “Here, Ephiny.” She handed the bowl over with the flatbread neatly on top. She then held up Janice’s while saying, “Enjoy… Janny.”

The archeologist had the flatbread in one hand and she pointed it at the Amazon. “Watch it, Solar.” She stomped off and sat beside Ephiny. When she got comfortable, she realized Callisto came over and sat beside her. Janice did everything she could to not let it bother her less she’d get indigestion tonight.

Callisto was no fool as she detected the uneasiness in this stranger. “Let me guess, I killed your ancestor’s husband or something.”

Janice choked on her spoonful of rabbit stew, a piece of meat lodged in the back of her throat.

Ephiny put her bowl down the ground and smacked Janice’s back hard to help her.

The archeologist finally had it under control but her face was bright red and nobody was sure if it was from the choking or embarrassment. She was suddenly handed a water skin from Ephiny, which helped sooth the last of the tickle in her throat. When she gave the skin back, she gazed at the thin blond beside her. “It wasn’t exactly like that…” At seeing fiery eyes on her, she hastily added, “Well maybe a little like that.”

Callisto showed a toothy smile suddenly. “You can be honest… honesty is the best policy. Don’t you think?”

Janice peered down in her half eaten bowl of stew then lifted her gaze again. “Nothing and nobody are as they seem… I’ve come to figure this out lately.”

The Amazon now had a softer smile and she leaned closer. “I like you, Janice Covington.” She straightened up while saying, “Maybe you do stand a chance against the Conqueror and Alti.” She dipped her spoon into her stew. “I know I certainly didn’t.”

Janice’s jaw flexed and loosened at Callisto’s quiet submission. She decided there wasn’t much else to say at this point so she went back to eating her meal.

The night went on quietly as everybody chatted around the campfire. Janice listened to many old war stories about the Conqueror and Alti. She found them as informative as much as horrifying. She had that sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach at the ruthlessness of the Conqueror yet she would not stand down. If she had any opening to getting back to 1940, back to Melinda then she would take it. She understood that she and the Conqueror were linked through their karma yet Janice realized too that the Conqueror was a completely different person compared to Melinda. The current state of her karma was much different than that of the Conqueror’s and she wondered if it wouldn’t be like throwing gas on fire when they meet face to face. Better yet it would be a bomb dropping, concluded Janice, who was now resting on her back in a bedroll and thinking over tonight’s stories. As she lay there, staring at the beautiful stars, she wondered if Alti truly knew what she was doing or just running blind into this just as much as Janice. Tomorrow around midday, Janice figured she would discover what was fated.

Early the next morning, the party broke camp early with six well rested Amazons and one moody archeologist. Ephiny found herself again forcing and arguing Janice up into the saddle of the mare. Ephiny was able to talk her into it by reminding Janice that it was only a few more candlemarks to the Corinth then the horseback ride would be over. That seemed to win Janice over thankfully, for Ephiny’s sake.

True to Ephiny’s word, they made it to Corinth and pulled off the paved road that led directly into Corinth as Ephiny was fearful of troopers spotting them. She led the party up a hill and stopped on the crescent just within the trees. She dismounted her mare and signaled for everybody else to do the same. She then turned to Janice and ordered, “Follow me.”

The archeologist obliged and followed Ephiny through the tree line but she also noted Solari and Callisto following suit.

Ephiny’s body was turned to Janice but her eyes were gazing out over the great city of Corinth.

“Holy… shit,” rasped Janice as she absorbed the ancient city right before her eyes. She couldn’t believe it at all. She’d never seen anything like this nor could she, until now. “There’s the Temple of Apollo.” She pointed at it as she recognized it even though she’d only seen it in ruins. Suddenly something caught her attention and she stepped closer to the edge of the steep hill. “Is that… that’s fuckin’ impossible.”

Ephiny followed her friend’s line of sight. “The Conqueror started the project as soon as she became the ruler. I believe she’ll succeed too.”

“That’s impossible,” repeated Janice. “The Corinth King, Periander, tried to build the Corinth Canal but failed… miserably.”

Ephiny folded her arms over her chest. “Yes, he failed and instead built a-”

“Diolkos,” simultaneously finished Ephiny and Janice.

Ephiny smiled at her friend and nodded. “The Conqueror does not accept defeat very well.”

“I can tell.” Janice was dazzled by the Conqueror’s persistence to build the famous Corinth Canal that would connect the Aegean Sea and Ionian Sea. Such a project required a lot of money, a lot of labor, and plenty of time. It was a feat that many past rulers tried and failed each time, even the great Julius Caesar. “If she completes the projects then…”

“Then Corinth will grow in power from the ships that don’t have to go around the Peloponnese Peninsula,” finished Callisto. “Even I have to admit, the Conqueror has a great vision.”

“She’s intelligent and clever,” agreed Solari.

“Over here….” Callisto pointed off the right where there were a lot of people milling around. “That is the marketplace.”

Solari pointed next at a magnificent building with the largest pillars that were built into a hill side. “That is the Conqueror’s. She lives there.”

Janice noted how the front of the building faced out over the city and harbor, which must have been the most beautiful view. So maybe Ephiny wasn’t joking about the Conqueror’s choice of Corinth over Athens. There was also a magnificent square in front of the Conqueror’s temple like home. “Is that the square where….”

Ephiny understood the unfinished question. “Yes, it happened there… it all happens there.”

The archeologist’s head slumped some as she shook it.

Ephiny touched her friend’s small shoulder. “Its best you get into the city before it gets later. Hopefully then you’ll find a place to stay for the night.” She turned back to the city in the snug harbor. “I suggest staying closer to the port. There are many taverns and inns there.” She then paused and gave a hidden signal to Solari and Callisto. After the two Amazons left she returned her attention to the archeologist. “You must lean to control your tongue while you’re here, Janice. The Conqueror has eyes and ears everywhere and if she catches wind of you then you can be guaranteed a spot in her prison until judgment. Once you’re in the hands of the Conqueror there is nothing… nothing anybody can do to help you.”

Janice let out her held breath then nodded. “I understand.”

“Let’s go back… I have some things for you.” The Amazon guided her friend back to the party but directed Janice to her horse. Ephiny fished around in her saddlebags then produced a leather pouched that was tied off. “This is fifty dinars that we’ve all contributed for you.”

Janice saw how the Amazons were gazing at her and she quickly held up her hands. “I can’t.” She stepped back.

“Yes you can and you will.” Ephiny stepped forward and pulled Janice’s hand down. She put the pouch in her cupped hand. “You can’t eat otherwise. You can’t find somewhere to sleep. So you must.”

The archeologist sighed then relented with a sad nod. She easily tied the pouch next to her other one on her right side. The other pouch she already had contained her extra bullets for her gun.

“Then keep this on.” Ephiny was whirling around from her saddlebags again with a dark cloak whipping around. She brought the cloak around her friend and clipped the Amazon feather at the neckline. “It’ll help hide some things. You may want to get a change of clothes as well to blend in better.”

Janice slowly nodded then quietly asked, “What about my things back in the Nation?”

Ephiny faltered at the question yet she sadly smiled. “I will keep them with me.” She leaned her head down closer to Janice’s and whispered, “Incase you decide to return.”

The archeologist peered up into soft amber eyes, which made her smile. “Thanks, Eph.”

The Amazon ruffled her friend’s short, blond hair then said, “Its time.” She directed Janice through the trees and back to the cobble road that led down the hill and into Corinth. “Follow the road and it’ll take you right to Corinth… into the marketplace first.”

Janice stared at the road that was quiet for now. Right, follow the little yellow brick road… to the Conqueror’s house, inwardly grunted the archeologist.

“Be safe, Janice.” The Amazon moved in for a long hug.

Janice squeezed her friend tightly and willed some strength. “Thank you for everything, Ephiny.” She withdrew but didn’t break the embrace. “You’re the most amazing friend I’ve ever had.”

“I try,” teased the Amazon. She leaned in and placed a kiss to Janice’s cheek. She broke the embrace then forced her body to move away from her friend. She was close to the forest’s edge yet she stopped and looked back at Janice. “Janice?”

The archeologist was already on the road and she hesitated too so she could gaze back at her friend.

“I once heard a quote from a famous philosopher named Plato.” At Janice’s coy, teasing grin she continued and stated, “He said ‘We are twice armed if we fight with faith.'” She then held up her hand in a wave and called, “Good luck, my friend.” Then with that she diminished into the woods.

Doctor Janice Covington straightened out her cloak, checked her sword under her cloak, and caught a glimpse of her gun strapped to her right boot. “Well Covington, history doesn’t get any better than this… when you’re making it. Maybe I should skip on my way down,” she joked to nobody but herself. Instead she calmly continued the trip down the road into Corinth with each step bringing her closer to her fate.
Chapter 4 – First Day in Corinth

Janice Covington dipped her head as she pulled her hood to conceal her face better. She was in awe by everything in the market; the people in togas or other attire, the soldiers marching through, the items the merchant’s sold, and the food sitting out too. She tried to not let it defocus her so she decided it was best to go to the port and find an inn for the night.

The archeologist swiftly moved through the market and it was far larger and puzzled than she expected. It was almost a perfect maze except for the occasional sign nailed up on a building that pointed to this or that. Janice came to a stop in the middle of the market and tried to decipher what was written on the directional arrow. She squinted as she tried to translate the ancient syntax that only read: ??µ??a?.

“Goddamn,” she breathed, “what the hell does that say? Where are ya, Mel?” Just as she finished her complaint, something or somebody slammed into her from behind. Janice stumbled forward and almost fell but she caught herself and got up. She then spun around to figure out what’d happened.

“Stop her!” bellowed a merchant, who was pointing at the young girl that ran into Janice.

The archeologist’s eyes darkened but she saw the girl hurry off without a word. She then stiffened when three soldiers raced after the girl they’d caught a glimpse of briefly. Janice stepped aside when the soldiers flew past her and through the market. Her mind replayed the girl’s scared features and how she had a piece of flatbread tucked in her arms. Janice suddenly understood what’d happened. “Shit,” she growled and broke off into a full run.

Janice rushed ahead and saw that the soldiers actually had the small girl corned between two joining walls in the market. She felt her anger weld up about how they could take such a young child that was only trying to survive. She reached behind while muttering, “Time to blow my cover.”

The barking soldiers that towered over the girl were yelling at her and one even had a sword out. The other two had spears and were pointing them at the crumbled girl to scare her. Yet the soldiers suddenly straightened up when they heard that distinct sound of metal scraping through a scarab. One soldier dared to turn his head and saw the cloaked figure spin his sword but he quickly corrected his assessment of the figure being a man when he or rather she spoke.

“Why don’t you try me, boys?” Janice’s wild grin shined through her hooded features. She spun her sword in a beautiful display of any warrior. “Come on!”

Two of the soldiers were laughing while the third one decided to test her first. He charged her with a yell.

The archeologist braced herself and willed her strength that she knew she had inside. She caught his wild blow and stuck her foot out to make him stumble and fall face first into the hard cobblestone street. His face was broken open and blood seeping out between the cracks of the stone.

“Who’s next?” Janice flicked her wrist, which caused her sword to spin again. “Don’t be shy now.”

One soldier decided not to be shy so he handed his spear to his buddy then extracted his short-sword at his side. He cautious approached Janice.

Janice’s grin appeared from under the hood again as she took small steps. She readied her sword then planned on getting the jump on the man by attacking first.

The soldier was unprepared and the sword slashed his sword arm. He hissed in pain then tried to attack.

Janice matched each blow then ended the meager fight with a winning blow to his groin. She smirked when the soldier fell to his knees with his sword forgotten. And they didn’t teach that in the Amazon Nation, joked Janice. She quickly got over her small celebration and pointed her sword at the remaining solder. “You want a try too?”

The soldier holding two spears quickly threw them on the ground and fingered his sword hilt. He thought better of it and slinked away a few steps then quickly ran off in fear.

The archeologist snorted at the sight then lowered her eyes to the young girl in the corner. She sheathed her sword behind her back and gingerly neared the scared child. As she bent down beside the girl, she could hear everybody in the market muttering at once into a clamor.

“It’s a woman.”

“I bet she’s an Amazon,” remarked another merchant.

“Whoever she is,” quietly stated a customer, “she’ll be dead by nightfall.”

Janice ignored all of them as she saw to the girl. She gently asked, “What’s your name?”

The girl’s scared eyes softened at her savior. “I’m… I’m… Melpomene.” She hugged the flatbread against her chest, which was almost as big as her. “My friends call me Mel though.”

Janice’s heart broke at the nickname that she adored so much. She saw the girl wore a dirty brown skirt, a worn out white blouse, and her deep brown hair was messy. There were even a few scratches on the child’s cheeks.

Melpomene slightly smiled at Janice. “You’re my friend, right?” She saw gently green eyes inside of the hood then an amazing smile.

“I am,” agreed Janice.

“Then you can call me Mel too.”

Janice sighed but the sight of the two soldiers getting up and running away caught her eye. She took that as her cue to go too so she held out her hand, “We need to go, Mel.”

The girl was hesitant at first but she slowly took the larger, callused hand. She stood up with the stranger’s help but she still hugged that bread in her left arm.

When Janice stepped into the center of the small section of the market; everybody fell silent. Janice scanned all their faces and noted they were mostly trembling and drawn away from her. She could only imagine what type of hold the Conqueror had over these scared mice.

“Stay close and hold me hand,” ordered Janice.

Melpomene nodded and squeezed the larger hand tighter.

With that, the archeologist moved as quickly as she could through the market. She wasn’t sure where she was going but she knew she needed to get away from that general area since that’s where the fight had been. She could guess that within ten minutes there would be at least one squad of soldiers hunting her down. She knew she had skill with the sword but not enough for ten or more soldiers.

Melpomene hurried along side the fast moving woman. She wasn’t sure where they were going but she spoke up after they went down two streets. “Where are we going?”

“Well,” Janice glanced down then lifted her head, “I was hoping the port.”

Melpomene stopped and pointed at the road to their right. “That goes the port. Come on.” She retook Janice’s hand and guided her through the streets.

Janice was surprised at the girl’s sudden speed so she had to keep up. “Where are your parents, Mel?” she questioned as they wounded through the streets.

“In the Elysian Fields,” answered the small, quaking voice of the child.

The archeologist felt like smacking her forehead for the upsetting question. “Well who do you live with then?”

The girl glanced back and up at the mysterious woman. “Nobody but I always find somewhere to sleep.”

Janice inwardly groaned because this just wasn’t getting any easier. She lifted her gaze off of the child and saw the beautiful blue seas at the very end of the street. She felt some sense of relief. She decided to stop and pulled the girl closer to her. “Are you hungry?”

Melpomene suddenly beamed at the offer. “Yes.” She held up her flatbread in offer.

Janice inspected the flatbread but shook her head then knelt down. “It’s not safe to eat that.” She pointed out the dirt that was on it. “We’ll get something better.”

“We shouldn’t waste it,” argued the girl logically.

The archeologist couldn’t help her laugh now. “Very true.” She held out her hand for the bread.

The girl nervously handed the bread over and wondered what the stranger was planning to do.

Janice rose up to her full stature. She guided the child to a food vender and asked, “What will you give me for this?”

The vendor eyed the odd woman then inspected the bread himself. He admitted it was a bit dirty but it was edible nonetheless. “I’ll give you three apples for it or a bag of figs.”

The archeologist figured the figs would be easier to transport compared to apples or bread. “Figs then.”

The merchant picked up the thin leather pouch from under his table and handed it over.

Janice handed the item to her small friend. “Thanks.” She then got up on the street and realized there weren’t as many vendors here except for food vendors. She now slowly walked down the stone sidewalk and studied the various inns and taverns. “Are you familiar with any of these inns, Mel?”

The girl quickly stopped and considered the request. “The Fish Head inn I hear is good.”

“Lead the way,” agreed the stranger.

Melpomene smiled at the woman’s trust in her. “It’s not far.” She weaved them through people and streets until they came to a stop at a set of stone steps to a tavern. “In here.” She pointed at the inn.

Janice dropped her head back some, which caused her hood to fall back a little.

Melpomene memorized the stranger’s beautiful features that she finally had a chance to see better but not completely.

Janice tried to read the tavern’s name but the syntax was too hard. “Alright.” She lowered her head and ascended the steps with the girl. “I wonder if they serve cheeseburgers and fries,” she quietly joked. “And a nice sweet soda… with a touch of vodka.” Her stomach grumbled at the purposed menu but it wasn’t going to happen.

Melpomene didn’t understand much of what Janice said but she giggled anyway. She liked this woman’s odd humor because it was so different.

The archeologist realized she was steered directly to the bar where she found herself staring at a gruff looking owner. She cleared her throat and asked, “You have any open rooms?”

“Yea,” clipped the innkeeper. He then thought he heard a noise so he peered over the bar to see a kid. He huffed and looked at the stranger. “Cute kid.”

“Not mine,” argued the archeologist.

“I take it yer hungry too?” muttered the innkeeper.

“Ya got it,” joked the archeologist.

The innkeeper grunted and pointed at the empty tables in his tavern. “Sit down. I’ll check the rooms.”

Janice didn’t argue and went through the tables filled with patrons already. She took a quiet spot in the corner and figured it was the safest since she could see the traffic coming through. She smiled at the child that sat across from her.

Melpomene was swinging her feet that never touched the floor. “So what’s your name?”

Janice suddenly realized she hadn’t told the girl her name at all. “It’s Janice.”

Melpomene suddenly smiled at the woman’s Roman like name. “Are you from the Roman providence?”

What is with that assumption mentally complained the archeologist. “No, I’m from far away.”

The girl bent her head down and gazed up at the gentle features hidden under the hood. “Why you wear that?”

Janice Covington sighed and drummed her fingers on the table despite she was enjoying this child. The kid was as chatty as Janice. “Because I don’t want anybody to see my face,” she logically stated.

“Why?” Melpomene was still smiling. “You have a pretty face.”

Melpomene’s smile was catching onto Janice’s face but she quickly shook it free when the barmaid showed up. The barmaid hadn’t asked for orders or anything but she had two large plates of smell good food.

Janice blinked since she wasn’t exactly use to this custom.

“What you want to drink?”

The archeologist tried to quickly think of what in the world they drank these days besides diluted wine.

“I want water,” spoke up the girl.

“Make that two,” clipped the gruff stranger.

The barmaid said nothing and strolled off with her skirt flowing around her.

Janice picked up her wood fork but pointed it at the girl’s own plate. “Eat before it gets cold.”

Melpomene stopped swinging her feet and did what she was told. As she quickly ate, she noticed how much slower the stranger ate and quite eloquently too. She’d seen such eating habits with the upper class but not from somebody on the streets. This stranger truly perked the child’s interest. “So where are you from?”

Janice slightly grinned at the girl’s persistence about the topic. “I’m from far, far… faaar away.”

Melpomene was so baffled by this. “How many leagues?”

The archeologist was rethinking about saving this child however she really knew the truth. “More than you can count,” she teased.

“I can count pretty high too,” proclaimed the child between a mouthful of fish.

“How high?” challenged the archeologist, her cocky voice coming out.

“Up to a hundred,” proudly answered the girl.

Janice’s chest shook with a silent laugh. “That’s pretty high.” She now lifted her head when the barmaid silently delivered their drinks. She went back to eating her meal.

“You know what else I know?”

“What’s that?” Janice had forked some of her fish but waited for the girl’s response.

“I know what color the Conqueror’s eyes are… I bet you don’t.”

The archeologist had a wide grin yet she was going to play along. “No, I don’t… what color?”

“Blue,” declared the girl.

“Ah.” Janice nodded a few times as her mind wondered to such a blue pair that she missed. She sighed then asked, “How’s the food?”

“It’s the best,” answered Melpomene.

Janice had to agree, it wasn’t too bad after all. She knew it was all fresh and homemade, which couldn’t get any better.

“You know what else I know that I bet you don’t know?”

The archeologist almost groaned aloud; she had to ask though. “What’s that, Mel?”

“I know where there’s a secret tunnel into the Conqueror’s temple.”

Janice almost lost her fork at this information. Her head whipped up and her eyes met Melpomene. “Are you sure?” She hadn’t expected this and it could pay off too.

“Yup!” The girl had a bright smile. “I can show you… it’s really neat.”

“Yea… you’ll have to show me,” agreed the stranger. “How’d you find it?”

“I was playing along the beach… by the Aegean Sea.” Melpomene stopped though then leaned forward as if this was top secret. “I found a cave,” she whispered, “and it led to the Conqueror’s temple.”

“You followed it?” questioned the surprised archeologist.

“Uh huh… it went on for leagues and leagues.”

Janice’s coy grin toyed with her lips. “It couldn’t be that long.”

The girl relented because she knew she got a little carried away. “It was long though… dark and wet.” She shoveled her fork through the last of her food.

Despite the tunnel could be a mislead she figured it wouldn’t harm checking it out. It could purpose an easy way to enter the Conqueror’s without being detected. Yet Janice had no doubt in her mind that the Conqueror knew of the tunnel and most likely built it as an escape route for emergencies.

Finally the pair of unusual friends finished their meal and Janice guided the girl back up to the bar. Janice eyed the innkeeper at the other end of the bar.

“Look mate, I don’t have another room but I thought I did.” The keeper folded his hands on the bar. “Try yer luck down at the Jellyfish… tell ’em I sent ya.”

The archeologist refrained from sighing. “How much for the meals?”

“Three dinars.”

Janice nodded then fished around in her cloak. She produced the money and handed it over to him. She really wished she could figure out the value of a dinar compared to an American dollar but she had no way to gauge it. She peered down at her tiny friend. “You know where Jellyfish is?”

“Yup!” The girl bounced on her feet. “Just two streets over.”

“Great.” The stranger hurried out of the stuffy tavern and was relieved to step outside. She shifted off to the side of the entrance and needed a minute to breathe before they took off. She watched as a few patrons came up the steps, passed her, and went into the inn.

Melpomene pointed off to her left. “It’s right over there.”

“Alright,” agreed Janice. Just as she was prepared to get moving, a squad of Greek soldiers came around the corner. Janice’s heart leapt into her throat and she held her breath. They couldn’t know, could they? wondered Janice.

“There they are!” cried out a soldier, who was all too familiar with Janice.

“Shit,” hissed the archeologist. “Time to go, Mel.” She didn’t ask or think about it as she scooped the child up into her arms. “Hold on!” She cried and took a running leap off of the inn’s deck. She landed squarely on her feet with bent knees, a precious bundle wrapped around her, and she glimpsed back at the soldiers that were charging after her. Janice didn’t wait another heartbeat as she broke off in a desperate run with ten men hot on her trail.

“Get her!” yelled out the lead soldier.

Janice raced as fast as she could and dodged people, animals, and some badly setup vendor stands. Just as she went around a sharp bend there came a slow moving cart that blocked the street completely and the sidewalks were swamped with people.

“Shit,” hissed Janice. The soldier’s cries rang in her ears and they’d catch her any second if she didn’t make a choice. “Hold tight, Mel.” She pushed forward then calculated her leap at the right second and she went flying up and into the wagon. She bent her knees to absorb the shock then she glanced back to see some of the soldiers chasing them and taking aim with their spears.

“Holy shit, they’re nuts.” Janice quickly sprinted down the cart that quickly came to a halt when the owner saw them in it. She took a small jump to land on the edge of the cart then another leap onto the mule’s large back. Just then the mule cried out in protest and was prepared to buck when a spear hit his rear.

Janice screamed as she sprung off the mule’s back and hit the stone street. She could hear the lead soldier yelling for the cart owner to get the thing out of the way. Janice wasn’t about to wait so she broke out into a sprint again down the street. She hurried faster down the street, made a right, and a quick left down an alley and exploded into another busy street. She stopped for a second to catch her breath and mentally thanked Ephiny for getting her in shape.

The archeologist picked up on the soldiers’ yells and bustling noises so she kept moving.

“They can’t be far! Find them!”

“This way! Hurry up, you idiots!”

Melpomene lifted her head from being buried in Janice’s cleavage. She scanned where they were and she was about to tell Janice to make a left but it was too late. “No, not this way,” she cried.

Janice came to a skidding stop when there were walls on all three sides of her along with stunned merchants and citizens. She did a fast about face and started for the way out however she was cut short.

The squad of soldiers blocked the exit and the lead soldier stepped forward with his sword out.

Janice walked backwards and held the girl tighter against her burning body.

“Give us the girl and we’ll let you go,” offered the leader. “We won’t harm you.”

Janice bitterly laughed. “Sure you will,” she spat and backed away some more. She bent down a little and released the girl. “Get behind me, Mel.”

“They’re gonna hurt us,” whimpered the girl.

“Nobody is going to hurt you,” quietly promised the stranger. “Stay behind me.” She stole a quick glimpse at her gun that was still faithfully with her. She only had so many shots and she’d been saving them for Alti but at this rate it meant this child’s life. Janice rose up with her right hand unsheathing her sword.

The crowd of people all gasped at the sight of some strange taking on ten soldiers alone. They all plastered themselves to the wall and tried to pretend like they weren’t there, weren’t watching.

The leader signaled his men to fan out so that Janice was completely blocked off.

Janice scanned all the fearful faces of the people. A lot of help they are, grumbled Janice to herself. Then it occurred to her that maybe they could be of use. “You’re not going to let these soldiers harm this girl, are you?” She yelled to everybody.

The leader soldier stopped his advances on Janice and carefully checked each face of the civilians. He could tell they were far too frightened and it made him grin back at Janice. “It looks like they don’t care.”

Janice needed something to spark them, to light a fire under some scared asses. “Already one young woman was crucified for speaking out! Now they’re willing to take this girl… who’s trying to survive!”

Some of the people shifted off the wall at Janice’s words.

The archeologist stepped back, her left hand behind and pushing the child back. “Her name is Melpomene! And she has no parents… she has nobody!”

More of the crowed peeled off of the shadowy walls and stepped forward.

The leader soldier saw it but he was not fearful. He instead advanced closer to the stranger and girl.

“If you don’t help her,” yelled Janice, “if you don’t stop these soldiers then who else will?” She spun her sword in warning of a battle. “Who will stop them when they take your children!”

Suddenly it seemed like an explosion of chaos as there was yelling and an onslaught of people racing into the center of the small square.

Janice was amazed how the people attacked the squad of soldiers so bravely. So the mice did have fangs after all. She lost her grin though when the squad leader broke through the chaos and stepped up to Janice in an angry fury.

“You!” The soldier pointed his sword at the small stranger. “Are dead!”

Janice didn’t wait and instead engaged him with two running steps. She parried each of his powerful blows and she utilized her faster speed to get around his advances. Just as she came close to disarming him easily she took one of his surprise kicks. Janice hit the ground, her sword several feet away, and her cheek split open from the fall. Her face was still hooded, which actually ruined her view of the soldier bring his sword at her. Yet Janice sensed it and rolled away easily. She remained knelt down, her back to the soldier, her breathing irregular, and a pair of fearful grey eyes on her.

“Janice!” yelled the girl, as she pointed at the soldier raising his killing blow.

The archeologist hastily acted by grabbing her gun, cocking it, and raising her arm up as she twisted around. Her index finger began to pull back on the trigger and she focused her aim but she stopped.

The soldier stood frozen, his eyes to the Gods, and a trail of blood trickling down the corner of his mouth.

Janice’s eyes lowered to the shiny pieces of steel that protruded through the soldier’s leather chest. Quickly the sword disappeared back through its entrance and the squad leader collapsed to the ground but not without landing on his sword.

The archeologist lowered her gun and learned to breathe again. She hastily tucked her gun back into its home with the hammer put back. She grabbed up Melpomene and tucked her within her cloak as she faced the person that killed the soldier.

A man with a young face that was rather scarred stepped up to them. “Are you okay?”

Janice’s breathing was still heavy but she nodded. “Yes, thank you.”

The man glanced back to see that the fight was almost over against the soldiers. He turned his head back with a flashy grin. “Nice speech by the way.” He enjoyed the reward of a sly grin under the hooded features of the female. “We should go.”

Janice wasn’t sure who he was but she wasn’t going to argue with somebody that saved her. She grabbed Melpomene’s hand and picked up her sword that wasn’t too far.

“Hurry,” ordered the young man, “there will be more of the Conqueror’s men to follow.”

“Come here, Mel.” Janice bent down and picked up the child again. She then quickly followed the mysterious man that probably thought she was just as odd. She was led through several streets that wound and turned then through a few alleys but finally the man slowed down and made a leap into an abandon home.

The archeologist made a nice jump up too and ducked into the run down building and disappeared out of view from the entranceway. It was dark inside and musty smelling but it was safer than being in the open right now. When her eyes adjusted she saw several old, homeless people curled up in corners of the building.

The young man was by the window, his back against the wall, and his head twisted around the corner to see what was going on. He exhaled heavily and gazed at the stranger and the girl tucked in her cloak. “You put up a good fight.”

The stranger huffed and shook her hooded head. “I could have done better.”

“Don’t berate yourself… he was formable.”

Janice tilted her head to one side then quietly stated, “You talk like you know him.”

The young man smirked while brushing back his short but dark brown hair. “Not quite but I know sword skills enough.” He then tilted his head to the side and asked, “Why do you wear that hood anyway? You’ll attract more attention that way.”

Janice huffed as she debated his idea. She was attracting attention no matter and it wasn’t the kind she wanted. “I’m beginning to think you’re right.”

The young man glanced out the window again but saw nothing out of place. He moved away from the window but the light from the window helped him to see some of her features yet only so clearly. “Who are you?”

The archeologist figured it didn’t matter anymore so she reached up after a grumble.

Melpomene dropped her head back as the stranger began to remove her hood.

“The name’s Janice,” introduced the archeologist when her hood fell behind her.

The young man’s eyes widened in disbelief and he suddenly stumbled backwards, almost falling on his butt. “By… the gods.”

“You’re not Janice,” cried Melpomene, “You’re the rebel Gabrielle!”

The archeologist cursed and she hastily bent down so she could face the child. “I’m not Gabrielle,” she argued. From the corner of her eye, she saw the young man was carefully listening despite he was shaking his head, his hand on his forehead.

“Yes you are,” fought back Melpomene, in a small, choked up voice, “You have to be her. She’s the only one that can stop the Conqueror.” She hesitantly touched the stranger’s cheek. “You’ve come back from Elysia to save us.”

Janice collected the girl’s hand into her own. “Mel, I’m not Gabrielle… but…” She hesitated then quietly added, “I’m a close relative of Gabrielle’s.”

“Then you’re gonna save us, right?” whispered the worried girl.

Janice’s eyes flickered over to the homeless people in the corners. She shiver at the thought of little Melpomene following the same path these people were. Her heart clenched and her determination was fired with new meaning. She smiled back at the child as she knew that this was no longer about getting back home. This was about stopping the Conqueror and saving this girl along with so many others. “Yes, Mel… I am.”

Melpomene glowed with a smile now and her hero worship eyes watched as the small yet legendary woman rose up to her height again.

Janice gauged the young man’s reaction since she concluded he must have known Gabrielle somehow.

“Who… who are you?” He stepped closer again and absorbed her features that were identical. “You can’t be her… its impossible.”

“I’m not,” argued Janice.

He vigorously shook his head. “Gabrielle has no relatives… let alone a twin sister.”

Janice narrowed her cold eyes at him. “You mean Gabrielle,” she emphasized, “had no relatives?”

The young man tensed up and touched his sword hilt at his side.

Janice realized he must have made some error. “You knew Gabrielle, didn’t you?”

Melpomene shifted slightly so that she was behind Janice. She could feel the tension building between them.

Janice held up her right hand while saying, “I’m not going to fight you. We’re both on the same side.”

The young man slowly released his sword hilt then nodded. He moved away from the wall so that he was closer. A part of him wanted to touch the stranger to confirm that she was real and not some hallucination of his mind. “Gabrielle looks just like you,” he breathed in astonishment, his eyes squinted and dazed.

The archeologist heard the wrong tense again and she suddenly became angry. “Gabrielle is dead.” When the young man’s eyes widened in fear and took a step back, she narrowed her eyes at him. “Or is she?” She stepped around Melpomene and closed in on the man. “Is Gabrielle alive?”

The young man held up his hands then whispered, “Gabrielle was sentenced to the cross, yes.” He contained his breath as he quietly finished, “But she’s alive, well, and safe.”

“What?” roared Janice, who suddenly got up into the man’s face. “Gabrielle is alive!”

The young man jumped but not because of Janice. He realized they were in front of the window so he rammed forward, covered Janice’s mouth, and spun her away from the window.

The archeologist was slammed against the hard wall between the open doorway and window with the guy’s body pressed hard against her.

“Ssssh,” he whispered. At Janice’s nod, he lowered his hand.

The archeologist stopped breathing because she thought maybe it’d give them away while the soldiers were mulling about just outside. Her eyes lowered to Melpomene nearby. ‘Don’t move,’ she mouthed to the child.

Melpomene nodded several times yet she was petrified and shaking. She saw a soldier coming up the two steps and stopping just outside the doorway.

The soldier had his sword by his side and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark room.

The girl remained still and silent and she was mostly frozen by fear. Her chest heaved up and down.

Janice clenched her hands at her side and prayed to God or Gods that would spare them.

The young man’s sweaty hand clenched his sword hilt so tightly, ready to burst forth.

“See anything up there?” bellowed a deep voice from the street below.

The soldier’s head turned sidelong. “Nothin’ but a bunch of stinkin’ homeless.”

“Well let’s go, we’ll find them.”

The soldier turned and stomped down the steps to hit the stone sidewalk.

Melpomene watched him disappear out of her view then her horrified expression lifted to Janice.

The archeologist couldn’t take it anymore so she shoved the guy off of her and scooped Melpomene up into her arms. “Its okay, Mel.”

The girl’s eyes stung against the tears that wanted to break free. She clenched onto Janice’s cloak and buried her face into the older woman’s warm neck.

“You did just fine, sweetie,” crooned the archeologist. “He’s gone now.” She lifted her gaze from the shaking child and turned to the young man. “You’re going to take me to Gabrielle.”

His breathing was just settling now and he considered the options. His back straightened up when Janice stepped up closer to him. He’d seen such a fire in green eyes before and he prayed he’d never see it again.

“Fuckin’ take me to Gabrielle…now.”

The young man pulled himself off the wall then nodded. “I’ll take you to her.” He held up his right hand and bent around the corner to peer out the entranceway. He saw that all the soldiers are gone so he whispered, “Let’s go.” He walked out of the abandon house as if he owned it and did that everyday.

Janice kept soothing the frightened child as she followed suit. When they were at street level, she whispered, “Can you walk, Mel?” At the child’s nod, she lowered the girl to her feet.

“By the way….” The young man faced the odd pair of friends. “My name is Perdicus.”

The little girl smiled, “I’m Melpomene.”

“Hi, Melpomene.” Perdicus smiled at the girl then slightly lost it when he looked to Janice. “Gabrielle isn’t too far from here. Stay close and we should be fine.”

“Lead the way then,” offered the archeologist.

Perdicus was about to move but stopped and quietly added, “Put the hood back on.” He spied that some of the people in the street were pointing at Janice. “Enough people know who Gabrielle are thanks to her speech a moon ago.”

“Right,” murmured the archeologist. She lifted the hood and her features darkly disappeared. “Let’s get outta here.”

Perdicus second the idea and briskly walked left down the street. He guided them through many streets that were mostly wide, busy, and some a bit dirty. He then rushed down two alleys and back into three more streets.

Melpomene had a hard time keeping up with the fast moving pair.

Janice easily picked it up and also picked up the child into her arms again. She hid the child in her cloak with exception of her head.

Perdicus dodged into another alley that was clean yet pretty grim on light. He slowed down then finally stopped in front of a wood door. He stepped up, close to it, and gave some kind of unique knock. The door slowly creaked open and he slipped in hastily while saying, “Come on.”

Janice didn’t need a second invite as she dashed through the door that immediately closed behind her. When she made it safely into the building, she lowered the child beside her and scanned the small living space. There was a makeshift kitchen to the right, a dining table to the left, and straight ahead was a living room with a burning fireplace. Just ahead to the left were a set of wood steps that wound upstairs to another level. Her green eyes followed the stairs up to where she could make out the ledge of the second level.

“Perdicus, how are you?”

Perdicus smiled at the woman that’d opened the door. “I’m great. How are you?”

“I’m getting better… almost over this cold I’ve had.”

“That’s great to hear.” Perdicus then followed the woman’s eyes to the two strangers beside him. He recalled why he was here in the first place. “Cyrene, is Gabrielle awake?”

“Yes, she’s upstairs… working on her scrolls.” Cyrene gazed up at the second level where there was a flicker of firelight.

“She has some visitors,” explained the young man.

“So I see.”

Perdicus cleared his throat then said, “Excuse us.” He wasn’t about to explain everything, especially how this stranger looked and sounded just like Gabrielle. “Follow me,” he ordered.

Janice glided throw the house, just behind Perdicus, and with Melpomene at her side who was clutching her left hand. As she ascended the stairs her heartbeat became so fast at the realization she was about to meet her ancestor. She was almost sure Melinda’s page about fainting was going to come over her.

Janice came to the last step and turned as Perdicus did the same. Her heart was wild, her pulse erratic, and her chest heaving. It was as if she was about to meet the greatest, mythological hero that everybody believed in. Yet Janice’s view was abstracted by Perdicus.

Perdicus stepped aside while saying, “Gabrielle, there are some… visitors to see you.”

Janice stood rooted to the top of the steps as she stared at a pair of inquisitive green eyes that matched her own. And the best thing she could come up with at that very second was, “Hooolyyy… shit.”
Chapter 5 – Introductions… Again

Gabrielle remained transfixed by the hooded stranger poised at the top of the steps. Her next words though were directed at Perdicus. “She has quite the mouth.”

Janice’s heaving chest was slowing some. She knew it was a joke, which made her grin. Yet she kept staring at her great ancestor that remained lying back and relaxed on a lounge chair, a scroll and quill in her lap, and spread out over the floor were plenty of other scrolls.

Gabrielle turned her head up to Perdicus. “Did you pick her up at a bar?”

Perdicus couldn’t help a quiet laugh as his warm brown eyes switched to Janice. “Not quite.” His right hand rested on his sword hilt casually.

Gabrielle returned her attention to the quiet stranger. “And who are you, may I ask?”

The archeologist planned on the shock factor first as she reached up, pulled her hood back, and introduced, “The name’s Janice.”

Gabrielle’s hand that’d been holding her scroll and quill in her lap faltered and the scroll with quill slipped. There was a quiet yet resounding clunk when the scroll met the wood floor. “The gods be damned…” she exhaled in her last surprised breath.

Janice’s amused smile appeared on her features. “It seems the mouth runs in the family.”

Perdicus was doing his best not to laugh, his teeth holding onto his lower lip.

Gabrielle was still in bewilderment; her green eyes mixed with interest, confusion, and even fear.

However at that point, Melpomene decided to maker herself quite known so she bounced up to Gabrielle with a beautiful smile on her face. “Hi, I’m Melpomene. Are you Gabrielle? The rebel leader?”

Gabrielle’s forest green eyes lowered to the child and her smile couldn’t refuse the girl. “Hi, Melpomene.” She touched the girl’s messy hair and tried to straighten it out a little while saying, “And yes, I’m Gabrielle.”

When Gabrielle’s hand left Melpomene’s hair, she started to rock on her feet. “I saw you in the square that day… a moon ago.”

Gabrielle’s features saddened at the girl’s confession. “That’s not a safe place for you, Melpomene.”

“I had to go,” debated the girl, “because I heard so many stories about you. I wanted to see the famous Gabrielle.” She leaned in closer and quietly asked, “Were you scared… to face the Conqueror?”

Gabrielle also leaned in just to go along with the child. Her whispered response was, “I was but you know what?”

“What’s that?”

“Despite how scared I was… I also had faith I’d be okay.”

“How did you know?” murmured the girl.

Gabrielle touched her chest, just over her heart. “I knew in here because not even the Conqueror can steal away my faith.”

Melpomene had a bright smile at the woman’s wisdom. “You were brave,” she spoke louder while straightening up. “Janice is just as brave. She stood up against three soldiers to save me.”

“Did she?”

Janice remained in her same spot; she studied the inquiring green eyes that flickered up to her for a heartbeat.

“She then spoke out to the people to attack ten other soldiers.” Melpomene glanced at Perdicus then back at Gabrielle. “That’s how we met Perdicus.”

Gabrielle now was able to piece some of the day’s events together. It still however didn’t explain this stranger’s mirror image.

“Are you and Janice going to stop the Conqueror together?” Melpomene put her hands behind her back then rocked on her feet again.

Gabrielle read that the child had every hope in the fact that her and this Janice would challenge the Conqueror together. The faith that Melpomene harbored was rather contagious too. “I think so, Melpomene.” Now her gaze rose up to this unusual stranger that felt awkwardly familiar to her.

Perdicus cleared his throat to attract Gabrielle’s attention. “I think I will go downstairs to see how Cyrene is.” He stepped up near the child and Gabrielle. “Did you want to come down, Melpomene?” His head was bent down.

Melpomene quickly shook her head then firmly stated, “I want to stay with Janice.”

Perdicus was grinning and it went wider at Janice. “Well, I’ll be downstairs if anybody needs anything.” With that, he floated down the steps and saw to Cyrene.

Gabrielle brushed back her bangs then with her arms she pushed herself up better in the lounge chair. She signaled to the other lounge chair and offered, “Please sit, Janice. I think we have… a lot to talk about.”

The archeologist dipped her head in agreement then took the lounge chair yet she made sure her boots never touched the end of the chair. She wasn’t about to dirty the warm, soft chair. “Mel, you want to sit with me?”

Melpomene quickly agreed by crawling up into the lounge chair then wiggling into a comfortable spot between the arm and Janice.

“Okay?” gently probed the archeologist to the child.

Melpomene’s response was a content smile then she rested her head against Janice’s chest.

Gabrielle cleared her throat then leaned forward to play with her skirt because she was uneasy about this situation. “I’m not sure where we should start.”

Janice tilted her head as grin formed. “The start is usual the best.”

Gabrielle couldn’t agree any better so she waited for that start from Janice.

“I just wish I knew where the start is,” muttered Janice, who grunted at her own words. “This won’t be easy to explain… or even believe.”

Gabrielle swallowed yet she slowly nodded. “I have seen many things in my lifetime. And it seems I still have yet to see many more.”

Janice was already enjoying this conversation. “We’ll start with how I am… well look just like you.”

Gabrielle quietly chuckled while adding, “And sound.”

“And sound,” agreed the archeologist. “I’m actually…” She faltered and rubbed her neck, which caused her to glimpse down at Melpomene. She noticed how the girl was very tuned in and her eyes filled with reverence for Janice. Janice dropped her hand to her lap and quickly finished what she started to say. “I’m from the future and I’m your descendant.”

Gabrielle inhale deeply and held it for some heartbeats. She gradually released it in a decrescendo of whirling emotions. “Well… that wasn’t… what I expected but I think I can handle it.”

The archeologist quietly laughed and despite her past assumptions about her ancestors, she was beginning to reevaluate.

“If you’re from the… future,” tried Gabrielle, “How did you end up here?”

“That’s the interesting part.” Janice swept her fingers through her short, blond hair then proceeded to answer. “I’m sure you know Alti?”

Gabrielle’s green eyes went three shades dark into a cold hunter. “The Conqueror’s shaman… I know of her. I take it she somehow brought you here.”

“Yes, with the Conqueror’s scepter.”

Gabrielle pondered what scepter Janice spoke of then it occurred to her. “I have seen that scepter.” Her hazy green eyes centered on Janice again. “When I stood up against the Conqueror… it was positioned beside her thrown. I didn’t realize somebody could time travel with it.”

“I don’t think anybody knows of it… except for Alti.”

“So it would seem as the Conqueror would utilize such a power if she knew she had it.”

Janice ran her tongue along her back molars then she humorously stated, “And it’s sitting right under her nose.”

Gabrielle briefly smirked yet she lost it as her earlier wondering thoughts returned to her. “I thought maybe you were an Amazon.” She indicted Janice’s garb.

“No, I’m definitely not.” Janice studied her leathers that showed now that her cloak had fallen off to the sides. “After Alti kidnapped me, she dumped me in the Amazon Nation.”

Gabrielle’s expression filled with understanding. “I’m surprised they took you in.” She shifted in her chair from being a little uncomfortable. “They’re known for being selective and secretive.”

“Really?” The archeologist was remotely taken aback. “They were great hosts to me.”

Gabrielle slightly nodded then explained, “They were once a great race, more superior than many until they faced the Conqueror and Alti. Since the last great battle between the Amazons and the Conqueror they’ve pretty much disappeared… they’re almost a myth now.”

Despair filled Janice at hearing her ancestor’s words.

“Who is their queen now?”

“Cyane,” answered Janice, her interest peaked when Gabrielle had a shadowy grin.

“I didn’t think Queen Cyane was still alive. She was one of the Conqueror’s greatest adversaries.”

Janice huffed at this then remarked, “Now you are.”

Gabrielle sighed heavily while lowering her gaze to the floor. “I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest.” Her head lifted again. “I am an adversary though.”

“From what I hear,” disputed Janice, “you’re already a legend.”

“To be a legend requires doing something great, which I never have… I’ve only spoken out.”

The archeologist’s eyes were light from enjoyment of this debate. “And yet nobody else in this godforsaken world would even dare think about speaking out much less do it.”

Gabrielle wasn’t pleased with Janice’s assessment but she had no other arguments either.

“How did you get off that damn cross anyway?” brought up Janice.

Melpomene shifted when she heard Janice ask the question that was on everybody’s lips.

Gabrielle’s attitude shifted into something more pleasing. “I am no fool. I knew what the costs would be for speaking out against the Conqueror.”

The archeologist had slit eyes but her lips curled into a fine grin. “You planned on her sentencing you to the cross. You knew somebody on the inside.”

Very slowly Gabrielle nodded. “However I wasn’t expecting to have my legs shattered.” Her eyes lowered to her legs, to where her skirt stopped just above her mid thighs. “This,” gesturing with her hand, “was a minor setback.”

Janice still gazed at the bruised and somewhat red legs. “Are you healing okay?”

While shaking and sighing at once, Gabrielle replied, “The healer has told me I will always walk with a limp.” She swallowed against the old, stinging emotions from when the healer had told her of the news. She vowed to not let it steer her from her mission or even slow her down.

“I’m sorry, Gabrielle,” comforted the archeologist.

Gabrielle pulled back her emotions then shook her head. “No, I am happy because I am still breathing.” She paused then her convicting voice vowed, “So long as I am breathing I will fight the Conqueror.”

“Do you have plans to stop the Conqueror?” urged Janice.

Gabrielle, the famous rebel to all, had a heartbreaking expression. “I’ve been making plans since she destroyed my village. I’m constantly battling her.” She directed with her hand to the scrolls on the floor. “These scrolls are my words against the Conqueror.”

Janice gazed down at them yet she couldn’t read any of the syntax. “What are they about?”

Gabrielle was about to respond but she didn’t when she saw Cyrene at the top of the stairs.

“I thought maybe you both would like some tea,” offered Cyrene. She first offered a pottery mug to Gabrielle then came to Janice.

The archeologist blinked but accepted the tea. If Cyrene was at all shocked by her resemblance to Gabrielle, she said nothing about it or showed it.

“Cyrene, this is Janice.”

Cyrene warmly smiled at the archeologist. “It’s nice to meet you, Janice.”

Janice mirrored the smile back as she cupped the warm mug. “You as well, Cyrene.”

Cyrene lowered her gaze to the child snuggled between Janice and the chair.

Melpomene instantly knew as she beamed a smile. “I’m Melpomene.”

Cyrene chuckled as her smile transformed into a grin. “It’s nice to meet you too, Melpomene. Would you like anything to eat or drink?”

The girl honestly considered it then shook her head. “Maybe later… if that’s okay?”

“Of course.” Cyrene straightened up while brushing back her salt and pepper hair that’d fallen forward. “Just give a yell if you ladies need anything else.” With that, she went back to the stairs and disappeared down them.

Gabrielle sipped on her tea but her features were amusing at seeing how Janice stared at Cyrene’s vanishing form. She lowered the mug to her lap and warmly teased, “She’s seen it all in her day.”

The archeologist broke from her staring and shot a grin at her ancestor. “I’ve noticed.” She took a sip of her warm tea and was amazed at how nice it was. The warm liquid flowed down her throat and heated her belly. “So you were telling me about your scrolls?”

Gabrielle had taken another sip of her tea but she nodded. After she swallowed the flavorful tea, she explained her scrolls to Janice. “Many of the scrolls are the reforms that Conqueror needs to make. Others are about her conquest for Greece… the tales about her exploits. Then I scribe opinions about her new laws. I’ve even done a few comical plays about her, which I know is her least favorite.”

Janice quietly laughed between what Gabrielle told her and that grin on her ancestor’s face.

“Then there is the poetry I compose to give the people faith and hope.” Gabrielle tilted her head as she considered what else she’d written over time. “I even write true stories about the Conqueror’s childhood.”

The archeologist was puzzled by this. “Why?”

Gabrielle inspected her mug’s contents but she grinned up at Janice. “The people believed that the Conqueror was immortal… or a god. They believed her father was Ares himself, which I disproved.” She huffed. “On her conquest for Greece she came against her father, who was a warlord.”

Janice narrowed her eyes and quietly asked, “What happened?”

Gabrielle played with the half full mug in her hands. “She killed him.” Her eyes lifted to Janice. “I wrote the childhood stories to show she is just as mortal as we are.”

“How… how did you find out about her childhood?” Janice was absolutely puzzled yet amazed. She lifted her mug to take a drink while her ancestor responded.

Gabrielle smirked. “Cyrene is the Conqueror’s mother.”

Janice gagged on her warm tea and covered her mouth to keep it in her mouth. She didn’t feel like upsetting Melpomene with such a mess. She finally worked the warm brew down then removed her hand. “That’s her mother?” she loudly shot back.

The bard smiled at her descendant. “Yes.” She drank the last of her tea then figured she should explain more. “After the Conqueror attacked my village I had nobody left; my parents were dead and my sister taken into slavery. I survived only because I was chased into my father’s barn. I hid there until my hunter left but he made sure to torch the barn in hopes to burn me alive.” She faltered and studied her bruised legs for a heartbeat. “By the time I escaped the barn the raid was over, my parents were dead, and my sister gone.”

Janice couldn’t finish her tea now. She leaned to her right and was able to place the mug on the floor. When she straightened up her ancestor continued her story.

“Everything was gone….” Gabrielle’s hallow eyes flickered with images of her childhood. “I wondered the country side and ended up in Amphipolis but I didn’t know it at the time that it was the Conqueror’s home. I was hungry, wet from recent storms, dirty, and had some burns from the barn fire.” She shoved her memories away as her attention focused on Janice again. “I went into the marketplace desperate for food so I tried to steal some flatbread.”

Janice clenched her jaw when she heard this. It was an echo of Melpomene’s life in many ways. Her chest constricted against her emotions as she listened to the rest.

“The merchant caught me of course but before he could haul me off to the constable Cyrene stepped in. She happened to be there picking up food for her tavern. She paid the merchant double what the flatbread was worth then she took me back with her.” Gabrielle finally smiled as fonder memories came to her. “After that she pretty much adopted me as her child.”

“How did you both end up here?”

The bard tilted her head then rested it against the back of the chair. “When I grew of age I told Cyrene I wanted to stop the Conqueror… her daughter. We argued for a good moon but she realized she couldn’t sway me. She also refused to let me do this alone because she wasn’t going to lose another daughter.”

Janice had a smile but it was mixed with warmth and sadness. “So you both moved here… to Corinth.”

Gabrielle faintly nodded then whispered, “Into the belly of the beast.”

Janice quietly grunted at the joke. She glimpsed down at her young friend and saw the she was fast asleep, it made her smile.

“What are your plans, Janice?” Gabrielle lifted her head off the chair and waited.

Slowly amused green eyes rose up to Gabrielle. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

The rebel huffed and stated, “I have been planning most my life how to rid of the Conqueror.”

“And have you figured out how to do that?”

“Not all the details,” confessed the bard, “however I know the ultimate solution.”

Janice’s eyes narrowed when she heard Gabrielle’s voice chilled for the first time. “What is that?”

“Assassinating the Conqueror.”

Gabrielle’s words hung in the thick air between the descendant and ancestor for many heartbeats.

Janice exhaled a shaky breath after completely absorbing Gabrielle’s desired plan. “Maybe assassination isn’t the answer, Gabrielle.” Not when I know the Conqueror’s descendant like I do, inwardly added Janice.

Gabrielle suddenly bitterly laughed at the archeologist’s ridiculous words. “What else could there be?”

“Maybe the Conqueror needs to be reformed.”

The rebel quickly leaned forward so that her eyes had Janice locked in place. “Tell me Janice, what tyrants do you know have ever reformed?”

The archeologist’s historical mind flipped through every tyrant in history. Finally she came up blank with any such tyrant.

Gabrielle knew she’d won her case so she rested back in her chair. “The only solution for tyrants is death so they can pass into Tartarus.”

Janice sighed and ran the facts through her mind. She began speaking while her mind worked this out. “You have to look at it from both sides… think about how big the Conqueror’s Realm is? If she is assassinated then who is to take her place?”

The bard didn’t like this line of thinking or questioning because a long time ago she’d already resolved to assassinate the ruler.

“The Conqueror brings order to these lands whether or not it’s good or bad order. If she is killed then there will be chaos.”

“No revolution is complete without chaos, Janice. I rather take my chances as there are none worse than the Conqueror.”

Janice closed her eyes at her ancestor’s bitter anger for the ruler. She knew Gabrielle had every right and she knew too she’d feel the same way. Yet she knew Melinda and she knew the heart that rested within Melinda. There had to be some remnants of it in the Conqueror too because nobody is ever born that way.

Gabrielle dipped her head and tried to judge why Janice was so upset by this. She quickly calculated all of Janice’s factors then it struck her blindly. “You know the Conqueror’s descendant.”

The archeologist opened her eyes and met Gabrielle’s gaze. “Yea… we’re friends.” She tried to control her surfacing feelings about Melinda. “The same day we met was when Alti showed up.” She turned her head and she became dazed by the fire in the fireplace. “Melinda saved my life… protected me.”

The rebel now understood why it was so hard for Janice to accept that the Conqueror must be assassinated. Somewhere in Janice’s heart she truly believed that some piece that made up Melinda was hidden in the Conqueror. “Janice,” she whispered, “the Conqueror and Melinda are two different people.”

“Maybe,” murmured the archeologist. She rotated her head back. “Maybe not.”

Gabrielle ached for her descendant as she wished there was something better than this. “If there was a way to reform the Conqueror… I would take it.” She bit her lower lip then gently whispered, “There is no other way.”

Janice combed her fingers through her hair in hopes it’d brush away her emotions too. “I know,” she half heartedly accepted. She buried her dull ache and reminded herself how this would save so many people. “I think I know how we can assassinate the Conqueror.”

Gabrielle straightened up at her descendant’s words because it wasn’t what she expected. She never dreamed of accomplishing her quest anytime soon but she never strayed from it. ‘What do you have in mind, Janice?”

Janice forced her body to relax as she laid out some ideas to her ancestor.

Gabrielle carefully listened to each idea and only made a few suggestions or offered what she could to help. She was amazed as much as concerned about all the variables in the plan but there was no way around it. She could tell that Janice would be determined to see the plans through and not stop until the Conqueror was dead.

“The only thing is for any of this to work, Alti must also be stopped.”

The bard nodded at the archeologist’s logical conclusion. “Alti protects the Conqueror as much as the Conqueror protects her. You will have to kill them both for this to work.” She read Janice’s glowing eyes carefully. “Are you sure you can do this, Janice? Can you really assassinate the Conqueror?”

“Yes,” vowed Janice, “I don’t care what it fuckin’ takes. This world cannot keep going like this.”

“You could be killed,” gently reminded the rebel. “You could play the martyr.”

The archeologist shook her head as her teeth gritted against her bubbling emotions. “It’s a small price… nobody would even notice.” She grinned at her joke despite her ancestor wasn’t but she quickly added, “Besides, the people will only think I am you. If they see you’re still alive after then you’re a god in their eyes.”

“I’m not sure I would like that type of power over the people,” confessed the bard.

“Yet you can utilize it,” offered Janice, “to bring peace before the chaos begins.”

“I’m not a ruler,” debated Gabrielle.

“Neither was the Conqueror,” reminded the archeologist. She saw her ancestor was about to fight back again so she held up her hand to stop her. “Time will tell… this may not even work right.”

“Have faith,” warmly offered Gabrielle, “because it comes in many forms.”

Janice’s gaze lowered to the sleeping bundle pressed against her. “Yes… yes, it does.”

“We should get some rest.” Gabrielle still cupped her now empty mug.

The archeologist had a coy smile. “I’m actually a little hungry.”

The bard pressed her lips tightly together to stop her laughter. She lowered her head and cleared her throat before looking up again. “I’m sure Cyrene can make something.” She saw Janice about to make a fuss so she cut her off ahead of time. “Cyrene loves to cook for people.”

“She must since she had a tavern.” The archeologist peered down at Melpomene.

Gabrielle twisted in her seat and pointed just behind herself. “My bedroom is in there, I have two beds if you want to put her to bed.”

“I think I better,” agreed the stranger. She carefully maneuvered around until she had the sleeping girl in her arms and she was up on her feet. Janice went into the candlelit room and figured the empty bed must be the one without the scroll satchel on it. She lowered Melpomene onto the bed.

The child stirred awake and was completely confused but she settled when she saw Janice unlacing her worn boots. “Janice?”

The archeologist smiled at the small voice as she glimpsed down at the child’s sleepy features. “Come on, time to get some rest.” She placed the boots on the floor and said, “Get under the covers, Mel.”

The child did as she was told and crawled under them. She then grabbed Janice’s hand when she was straightening up. “You’re not going to bed too?”

Janice bent back over the girl. “I’m going downstairs to talk to Gabrielle, Perdicus, and Cyrene.” She carefully brushed back Melpomene’s bangs. “You’ll be okay?”

The girl slowly nodded but quietly asked, “Will you stay with me tonight?”

The archeologist’s chest shook with a silent laugh. “I will,” she promised. “Did you want dinner?”

“No, I’ll eat in the morning…?”

“You promise?” Janice gave the girl a very inquisitive look.

“Double promise.” Melpomene included a beautiful smile.

“Okay.” Janice organized the blankets over the girl. “Go to sleep. I’ll be up soon.” After her own promise, she went into her full stature and quietly slipped out of the low lit room.

Gabrielle had just gotten up from her chair after organizing her scrolls on the floor. She’d had quite the mess earlier but now they were all piled on top of each other. She picked up her walking stick on the other side of the chair and between her arm muscle and weak leg muscle she was able to stand.

Janice wanted to help so much yet she clenched her hands at her sides to stop her instincts. She knew that her ancestor mostly likely was stubborn like her and would refuse the help. “Does it hurt?”

The bard flashed an assuring smile. “It always will but life goes on.” She slowly started for the steps but she offered, “You can go first, Janice… it takes me awhile.”

The archeologist shook her head then respectfully held her hand out to the steps. “I have all the time in the world.”

The rebel grinned then began the painful descent of the stairs but she made it to the bottom just like every time in the past.

Cyrene dazzled a smile at the pair coming from upstairs. “Care to join us?”

Periducs turned in his seat and smiled at seeing the two blond beauties approaching them in the dinning area. He got up and pulled out a seat for Gabrielle when she was close enough.

“Come sit, Janice.” Cyrene patted the chair on her side of the rectangular table.

“Thank you,” answered the archeologist as she took her seat.

Cyrene’s eyes went to slits. “What happened here?” She touched the archeologist’s cheek that had a blood stain and a cut.

“Ah sorry.” Janice tried to wipe the dried blood away, which only caused the wound to reopen. “I got it when I was fighting that soldier.”

Cyrene let out a huge sigh then sprung up from her chair. “Stop touching it.” She walked into the kitchen to retrieve a wet cloth for cleaning. When she returned, she loomed of Janice with her left hand tilting Janice’s head back.

Janice remained still as Cyrene fussed over cleaning the wound. Her eyes flickered over to Gabrielle with a plea for help.

The bard shrugged then teased, “Don’t fight her, Janice… she’ll win.”

“Must run in the family.” The words rolled out of Janice’s mouth before she could stop them. She just wanted to hit herself at that point, her shoulders slumped and her eyes closed.

Perdicus tensed at Janice’s remark.

Cyrene hesitated but she continued her administration of the wound.

Janice finally cracked her eyes open some only to be regarded by very soft blue eyes. She was momentarily lost in them but she whispered, “I’m sor-”

“No,” murmured back Cyrene, “there’s no reason to be sorry.” She pulled back with her rag hand lowering to her side. “I’m rather proud that I’m so stubborn… it’s what’s kept us alive.” With that, she was gone.

Janice watched Cyrene go into the kitchen again. She wondered who Cyrene was referring to when she said us. She broke away from her thinking when Gabrielle spoke.

“Cyrene-”

“I’m already on it, sweetie.” Cyrene held up her frying pan with a wide grin.

The bard laughed and teased, “Am I that easy to read?” She hesitated then joked, “Don’t answer that.”

Cyrene chuckled then busied herself with getting some meals prepared for the young group.

“Perdicus,” Gabrielle saw him look at her, “Janice is my descendant.”

Perdicus was clearly bewildered as he glanced between Gabrielle and Janice for further help.

Finally Janice blurted out, “I’m from the damn future, man.”

Perdicus open his mouth, closed it, and opened it again then sputtered, “How?”

Janice smirked as her husky voice teased, “Well you see there’s this thing in nature called conception and what happens is-”

“Alti,” cut in the bard, “she brought Janice here.” Her voice held a note of tolerance for Janice’s smart answer yet she couldn’t refuse her own grin.

Perdicus rotated his head back to Gabrielle after forcing himself from staring at Janice. “She must have some plan if she brought Janice here.”

“She does,” informed the archeologist and when she saw both curious features turned at her, she decided to explain. “Alti’s hope is that I’ll face the Conqueror and if I do then most likely the Conqueror will kill me.” She waited a beat, shrugged then mildly stated, “Alti wants my karma.”

“You mean our karma,” corrected the rebel leader.

The stranger huffed and nodded. “Pretty much.”

“Why?” charged on the bard.

Janice quickly realized some of the mistake she made in telling her ancestor about Alti’s motives. She her mind quickly worked out a truthful but not complete explanation. “Our karma is from the Light… we’re self sacrificing.”

“That makes sense but Alti feeds off of weak souls and certain emotions,” debated Perdicus.

The archeologist smirked at the man then torment, “Smart boy, Perdy but you forget that Alti also feeds off of souls from the Dark and Light. She’ll take anything she can get.”

“The Conqueror is a Dark soul,” tried Gabrielle, “and I’m from the Light.” She shook her head then asked, “Wouldn’t she fear me?”

“She does,” agreed Janice, “She fears that you could undermine the Conqueror.”

Gabrielle quickly turned to Perdicus. “Alti set me up I bet.”

“What do you mean?” queried Janice.

“People that are sentenced to the cross never have their legs shattered,” informed Perdicus. “The sentence also has never been carried out immediately in public.”

“That’s out of character for the Conqueror,” further explained Gabrielle. “It was my hope to make it to the dungeons before my sentence was carried out.”

“So you could escape,” clarified the archeologist.

“Yes,” started Gabrielle, “I know some people that work the dungeons.”

Janice narrowed her eyes. “How?”

“Its amazing what bribery can do,” joked the rebel leader.

The archeologist grunted and peered up when Cyrene came over with plates of foods. Her plate was absolutely full and had the most delicious smell ever. Her stomach answered the call of food with a loud rumble.

Perdicus smirked. “Well the appetite runs in the family.”

Cyrene came back from the kitchen again but with her plate and Perdicus’s. She maneuvered into her chair beside Janice then stated, “The Conqueror will be even more out of character once she hears of Janice.”

“She won’t hear,” argued Gabrielle.

Cyrene picked up her fork yet hesitated and eyed her adopted child. “You know, as well as I do, that the Conqueror has eyes and ears everywhere.” She leaned forward then whispered, “Even in our own walls.”

The bard dipped her head down because she knew Cyrene was right. “Let her try, Cyrene.”

Cyrene exhaled deeply then decided not to argue anymore so that it wouldn’t spoil dinner. She began eating along with everybody else. “So what are the plans?” she brought up.

Descendant and ancestor exchanged worried features about whether to tell the Conqueror’s mother. This wasn’t easy and Gabrielle hadn’t truly considered Cyrene’s reactions to such a proposal as she’d never mentioned it in the past. Gabrielle knew it was up to her to explain it since Cyrene was very much her mother.

“We plan to assassinate the Conqueror.”

Perdicus stopped eating, his hooded eyes on Cyrene.

Cyrene’s fork stopped from pushing the feta and olives around then started it again. “When?” she murmured softly. Her grey-blue eyes finally rose up to Gabrielle.

“As soon as we can,” admitted the bard. “Cyrene, I-”

“No,” stopped the Conqueror’s mother, “I can longer watch my child destroy so many lives.” She swallowed hard while her eyes burned from rising emotions. “How will you do this?”

“First we need to talk to the council and have them agree.”

Cyrene mutely nodded.

“If you get the council’s agreement, then what?” persisted Perdicus.

Gabrielle reeled into an explanation of her rough plans. Janice silently listened despite she had a few extra ideas in mind too. This would not be easy on any level, especially emotional and certainly most taxing on Janice and Cyrene. Finally the talk about the plans slowed down then Gabrielle explained some of her rebel faction to Janice, which greatly interested the archeologist.

“Each head council member has a personal guard,” clarified Gabrielle, “and Perdicus is mine.”

“Then who’s is Cyrene?”

Gabrielle pushed her empty plate away and picked up the clay mug of water that Cyrene had gotten her earlier. “Another young man by the name of Joxer.”

Janice’s eyes widened at this news. “Is he about Perdicus’s height, short black hair, beady black eyes, and acts like bumbling idiot?”

The rebel leader tilted her head. “Yes to everything but the bumbling. He’s quite an excellent fighter.”

The archeologist was completely in doubt about something like that.

“Many of the guards are from the Conqueror’s army. Like Perdicus, he was forced into the Conqueror’s army when they came to Potidaea. He had to serve a minimum of twenty seasons before he was released,” explained Gabrielle.

“You two have known each other since childhood?” inquired Janice.

Perdicus nodded his head slowly. “Gabrielle and I are childhood friends.” He glimpsed at the bard then back at Janice. “Her parents had betrothed us at a young age.”

Janice was almost positive her jaw hit her lap. Now the tidbit she’d read in one of Gabrielle’s scrolls made sense about Gabrielle’s husband being killed by Callisto. She knew Perdicus’s name was familiar but it’d never made sense until now. “Why aren’t you two married?” she popped out before it was too late.

Perdicus saw how Gabrielle hung her head and stared at her empty plate. He had to answer for them both. “Things change, Janice… a lot.”

The archeologist went silent now that she brought up plenty of old wounds tonight.

Cyrene easily broke up the uneasy silence by saying, “We should get some rest.” She turned her attention to Perdicus. “Why don’t you stay here tonight…?”

“If that’s okay?”

Gabrielle patted her friend’s knee under the table. “I think it’s safest… especially with Janice and Melpomene here.”

The young man conceded with an agreeing head. He then stood and collected the empty plates around the table.

The bard gazed at her descendant. “You’ll stay up in my room tonight?”

Janice softly smiled at the invite. “Yes, thank you.”

The rebel reflected the smile back then gazed back at Cyrene. “Will you be up early tomorrow?”

“Now Gabrielle,” Cyrene laughed.

“I know, silly question.”

“What do you need, sweetie?” Cyrene leaned back in her chair and briefly watched Perdicus sit back down with them.

“I’ll need a message delivered to the council members.”

Cyrene quickly nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Great.” Gabrielle now rested back in her chair, her hands folded on her full stomach. “I’ll write it tonight and leave it down here for you.”

Cyrene merely nodded, her thoughts wondering off to the future.

Gabrielle stifled a yawn.

“Come on.” Janice was in agreement about rest since it’d been a busy, long day for her. She got up just as Gabrielle did the same.

“Do you need help, Gabrielle?” politely offered Perdicus.

The rebel leader was a few steps away, towards the steps. She simply threw him a look for her answer then proceeded to the steps.

Perdicus, the guard, shrugged and gazed back at Cyrene.

Cyrene chuckled and teased, “She has my stubborn streak.”

“Cyrene, I’m afraid to tell you but she’s had that long before you.”

“I heard that,” called an annoyed voice from part of the way up the stairs.

“I resent that too,” hollered the descendant.

The older woman softly chuckled at the pair. “I believe you’re right.” She got up and said, “I think I’ll prepare for bed.”

Perdicus only nodded as he understood what Cyrene was saying to him. He waited there at the table to let Cyrene to some private time.

Gabrielle took a seat at the foot of her lounge chair. “Janice, can you get my scroll satchel from the bedroom? I’m worried I’ll be too loud.” She indicated her walking stick in her right hand.

The archeologist said nothing yet slipped away into the low lit room. She made out the outline of the satchel bag and silently lifted it. She glanced over at Melpomene and saw she was contently asleep.

The rebel leader smiled a thank you when she had her satchel. She rested it up on the lounge chair and dug through it. She discovered a blank scroll and she picked up her quill from the stack of scrolls on the floor. After unrolling the scroll in her lap, she slowly composed a message to the council members.

Janice meanwhile gathered her ancestor’s scrolls on the floor and despite she was curious to read them, she knew she couldn’t without Melinda’s help. Instead she neatly tucked them inside of the scroll satchel.

“Thank you,” murmured the bard between her writing.

Janice scooted the satchel out of the way then sat beside her ancestor. She studied the neatly written words on Gabrielle’s scroll but she couldn’t make sense of the syntax. With frustration she sighed and stared down at her lap to wait for Gabrielle to finish.

The bard paused and glimpsed at her descendant’s frustrated features. “What is it?”

The archeologist stopped grinding her teeth for a moment to actually respond. “I can’t read what you’re writing.”

The dumbfounded bard stared at her descendant as if she was waiting for a laugh for a joke. “You’re serious?”

Janice pulled her head away from Gabrielle’s surprised gaze. “My friend… Xena’s descendant she can read Greek syntax but I can only pick out pieces.”

“You cannot read any of this?” tried Gabrielle as she tilted the scroll to the archeologist.

The stranger’s eyes squinted as she glazed over the unfamiliar language then she paused and pointed at one word. “I know that says sheep.” She then furrowed her eyebrows as she considered why her ancestor was writing about sheep.

Gabrielle sensed the stranger’s puzzlement so the slightly smiled. “I write in code whenever I send out messages to the council or other members. I don’t need the Conqueror discovering my plans.”

Janice was clearly impressed. “Has the Conqueror ever broken your code?”

“Not to my knowledge,” breathed out Gabrielle, “however I try to change it some each moon.” She lowered the scroll back into her lap. “The council members are required to memorize the code and code changes each moon then the code decipher is burned.”

“Wow,” murmured the archeologist. “How can you trust that they do this?”

“The code is changed during our meetings. They memorize it then I burn it myself,” informed the rebel leader. “I trust my council members but I do it in front of them so that nobody will ever have room to question motives.”

Janice knew she’d never given her ancestor any credit however she was rethinking her judgments of her ancestor.

Gabrielle returned to scribing but she quietly asked, “If you cannot write Greek what do you write?”

“English,” answered the archeologist yet she knew Gabrielle would be confused easily. “It’s derived from the Germanic language… the people north of the Rhine in the Norselands. Latin also influenced it greatly.”

Gabrielle stopped writing, lowered her quill, and lifted her head to Janice. “Do you only speak English then?”

“Yes, but….” Janice’s brow was tightly woven and she was mystified. “Am I speaking Greek?”

The rebel leader opened her mouth to reply with explanation yet she had none.

The archeologist laughed and played with her short hair. “This is really… really fuckin’ weird.”

Gabrielle chuckled and switched back to her scroll to finish it.

“I’m just not going to even ask,” muttered the archeologist while she patiently waited for her ancestor to finish her message. She then noted Gabrielle had finished so she offered, “I can take it downstairs.”

The bard had finished rolling it up then tying the thong in place. “I can get-”

“You see, Gabrielle through the generations the stubbornness has gotten stronger.” Janice yanked the scroll from her ancestor and popped up. “So has the temper,” she muttered and went for the steps.

The bard was shaking her head but she had a smile. She picked up her scroll satchel then slowly rose up to her painful, hunched stance. She made the slow journey into the bedroom, sat on her bed after lowering her satchel to the floor, and she bent down to work at her boots.

The archeologist slipped into the room and saw that Gabrielle was preparing for bed.

“Do you want a sleeping shift?” whispered Gabrielle.

Janice shook her head. “No, I don’t want to dirty up something clean.” She grinned then added, “Besides I’m use to sleeping in my clothes.” She reached up to her neck to work on the feather clasp that held her cloak around her.

“You can take a bath tomorrow,” softly offered the bard. She got up and went to the small dresser near the foot of her bed. She collected a nightshift from the top drawer then slowly maneuvered her clothes off and her shift over her body.

Janice sighed at the thought of a warm bath plus it’d probably be good for Melpomene too. As she thought more about it, it wouldn’t be bad to get the child new clothes in the market tomorrow before the bath. After a minute or two though, Janice had her cloak removed, her sword in scarab off, and her boots off too. She left those items on the floor near the end of the bed, slightly tucked under so nobody would trip on them but she made sure to free her gun. Finally, Janice came to the head of the bed, placed her gun on the nightstand between the two beds, and easily crawled in behind the girl.

The rebel leader made her limping way to the bed and sat on it, propped her walking stick against the nightstand, and pulled the sheets back to get in too.

Melpomene stirred some yet she settled down again when larger, stronger arms pulled her in against a warm body. She slipped back into a much sweeter dreamscape than she often had in the past.

Janice didn’t know why she’d done it but it’d felt so natural to place a tender kiss to the girl’s head. She forced her mind to relax much like she always did when she went to bed. If her mind went over the day’s events, the past, or anything in the future then she’d lay awake all night. Her thoughts slowed then cut off and finally she discovered a peaceful sleep.

Gabrielle’s eyelids were heavy yet she kept staring at the two strangers in the other bed. She was still absorbing all that’d happened today and it was a lot to grasp. She did have a new sense of hope and that deep determination returned to her that’d been originally shattered by the Conqueror a moon ago. The Fates had brought Janice to her, not Alti, and she knew this would forever change her.
Chapter 6 – Preparations

Janice woke up with a startle but her rapid heartbeat eased again when she recalled where she was now. Her eyes adjusted and she finally took in the simply bedroom thanks to the light streaming through the window from the opposite side. Melpomene was no longer wrapped in her arms and Gabrielle wasn’t in her bed on the other side.

The archeologist stretched then rolled her body out of bed. She put on her boots first but it seemed like a long process since she had to yawn in between it. She strapped her gun back into its home on her right boot then she put the sword in scarab on her back. Janice straightened out the bed quickly but left her cloak on the foot deciding she wouldn’t need it right now.

Gabrielle heard the footfall descending the stairs so she directed her smile at the sleepy form of her descendant. “How’d you sleep?”

The stranger let out a grumble of complaint, came to the table, and flopped in the empty chair by her ancestor.

The rebel smirked and patted Janice’s closest knee. “That well huh?”

“The damn beds are so hard,” whined the archeologist.

Gabrielle stared at her then stated, “Our beds are relatively soft compared to some.”

The archeologist opened her mouth to refute it but she decided it just wasn’t worth arguing about this morning. Instead she turned her head to the bright face of a young girl. “Good morning, Mel.”

“Hi, Janice,” greeted the chipper girl. “I slept really well.”

The archeologist grunted, stifled a yawn, and then remarked, “That’s because you were sleeping on me.”

Gabrielle had a wide grin then teased, “That was nice of you.”

Janice’s tongue ticked one of her back molars.

The bard knew it was best to change topics and hastily at that. She wasn’t a much better morning person. “Cyrene is making breakfast already.”

Janice gazed into the kitchen and saw indeed that the woman was doing just that. “I have fabulous timing,” she muttered.

It wasn’t long before the group was happily eating a wonderful, light breakfast. Cyrene joined them as well however Perdicus wasn’t there as he’d left some time in the early morning just before dawn. At the end of breakfast, Janice informed everybody that she and Melpomene would be taking a walk down to the market to get some items. Gabrielle insisted they wait until a guard arrived to escort them. At first Janice refused but under Gabrielle’s formable tongue, she caved in and conceded. After breakfast Janice was leaning against the table, drumming her fingers on the table, listening to Cyrene and Gabrielle talk, and impatiently waiting for this guard to show up.

Cyrene’s right hand suddenly shot out across the table and captured Janice’s drumming fingers.

Janice jumped at the fast movement and she flushed at Cyrene’s obvious annoyance. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

Cyrene gave an assuring grin then continued chatting away with Gabrielle.

The archeologist let out a gigantic sigh and this time she was smacked on the knee by Gabrielle. “Jesus Christ!” she bellowed and shot up from the chair in frustration. “I’m gonna get my cloak.” She stomped over to the steps but hotly stated, “And if this damn guard isn’t here when I come down then I’m going.” She loudly proceeded up the steps.

Cyrene carefully watched the strange then she grinned at Gabrielle. “She’s your descendant huh?”

“I’m starting to wonder too,” joked the bard, who was still absorbing that idea anyway. “So he was confident that everybody would show this afternoon for the meeting?”

Cyrene first nodded then stated, “He’ll deliver the message to everybody then come here around noon high to let you know. Rhodes may not make it though.”

“That’s understandable,” murmured the rebel leader. She peered around when Janice came stomping back down the steps. She shook her head while watching the archeologist swing on her cloak and began clasping it.

“Well it looks like I’m guardless,” mentioned the brass archeologist. “Ready to go, Mel?”

The girl smiled happily because she was tired too of listening to the chitchat. She slipped out of the chair.

Cyrene narrowed her eyes at Janice and coldly stated, “Neither of you are leaving until a guard arrives.”

Janice stilled in the middle of closing her clasp. She held Cyrene’s stoic gaze and she half heartedly smiled while muttering, “I was joking anyway.”

Cyrene became smug and returned her attention to Gabrielle yet before she could say what was on her mind, a knock interrupted her. She picked out the unique knock so she rose up and went to the door.

“Good morning, Cyrene.” The young man dipped his head in respect then slipped into the warm house.

“How are you this morning, Joxer?”

Janice’s head shot up just when she finished with her clasp. She stared at the spitting image of Jack Kleinman but he actually seemed a bit more handsome. Jack’s ancestor also had a rougher and worn appearance about him with a scar down the right side of his temple that trailed to his right cheek. He wore a pair of light brown leather pants, a loose white shirt, and a black cloak to keep him warm. Then poking through at his right hip was the hilt of his sword.

Joxer smiled as he turned his attention to Gabrielle. “Good morning, G… a… b….” His eyebrows knitted together and he stared, mystified by the woman behind Gabrielle.

The bard thoroughly enjoyed Joxer’s confusion, which made her chuckle. She cleared her throat then said, “Joxer, this is my descendant.” Her tone was highly amused now but she finished her introduction. “This is Janice.”

The archeologist glowered at her ancestor, who was getting too much pleasure from this.

Joxer remained still and even more bewildered as his eyes flickered between Gabrielle and Janice as if evaluating how similar they truly were. He half expected it to be a joke and that Janice would rip off a mask.

“Sit down, Joxer… I’ll explain,” offered the bard.

Janice rolled her eyes because that meant it’d require another solid thirty minutes before she and Melpomene could leave. She grabbed a chair and tugged Melpomene along with her but she hefted the girl into her lap.

Melpomene cuddled right into the welcoming warmth of her friend. She twisted her head up and asked, “Why are we going to the market?”

Janice lifted her right hand and poked the small nose. “To get you some new clothes then when we get back we’ll take bathes.”

“We’ll need you at the meeting today, Janice,” mentioned Cyrene, who was sitting beside the stranger.

The archeologist quickly nodded then promise, “We’ll be there.” She then glanced over at Gabrielle and Joxer. She noted how Joxer would keep looking at her then back at Gabrielle then back at her and then… well it was getting annoying to Janice. She let out a frustrated sigh then hotly announced, “Mel and I are leaving while you two rattle on about me.”

Melpomene easily slipped out of Janice’s lap and became excited about leaving.

The archeologist started for the door but she hestitated when a presence came up behind her. It made her grin and she opened the door.

“We’ll see you this afternoon, Janice,” called the rebel leader.

“Yea, yea,” mumbled the stranger, and she was gone.

Gabrielle’s body shook with a silent laugh while watching Melpomene, Janice, and Joxer leave together. She started shaking her head and lowered her gaze to Cyrene.

Melpomene took on the duty of leading the group to the market since she knew the city so well.

Joxer walked on Janice’s left side while Melpomene was on the other side. Joxer adjusted his cloak for no real reason then quietly asked, “So you’re really from the future?”

Janice gave a wild grin, reached up, and pulled her hood over her face as they stepped out onto the street from the alleyway. “I sure am.”

“Hmmm.” Joxer kept turning this over in his head despite he’d heard the story from Gabrielle.

“How long have you known Gabrielle and Cyrene for?” quietly asked the archeologist.

The guard gave an idle shrug then reported, “For more seasons than I care to count.”

“You don’t sound so happy about that,” commented Janice.

Joxer suddenly smiled then replied, “I’m honored to be in the faction.” He hesitated as his smile fell from old, hard memories. “This has been a better life than my previous one.”

“You were in the Conqueror’s army?”

“For twenty seasons,” confirmed the guard. “It was through Perdicus that I became apart of the faction.”

Janice found this interesting but she couldn’t ask more since they were coming upon the market. “Mel, we need to find a shop for clothes that’ll fit you. Do you know where to look?”

“Yes, it’s this way.” Melpomene bounced then tugged her friend along.

Janice yelped as the surprisingly strong child hauled her off to a sharp left.

Joxer was chuckling but he hurried right along.

The archeologist came to a quick stop in front of a clothing stand. She nodded her approval of the garments while the child dove right into them. She folded her arms and carefully watched Melpomene inspected the clothes for something she liked.

Melpomene suddenly called to Janice in an excited voice.

The archeologist had a huge grin as she neared the girl and she bent forward.

“Do you like them?” The girl held them out.

Janice wasn’t the best on taste considering she typically wore the same thing day in and day out when on digs. Yet she took in the selected brown skirt and white blouse with a cute dark blue design sewn in it. “I like it.” She smiled then asked, “Are there any boots?”

Melpomene lowered her arms with the articles but she peered down at her worn boots. “My boots are fine.”

The archeologist chuckled and now squatted down so she had a closer inspection of the boots in question. “I don’t think so, Mel.” She pointed at the right boot that was developing a small hole. “They’re almost shot.”

“Leather boots cost a lot,” muttered the concerned child.

Janice had a lopsided grin as she played with Melpomene’s hair. “And you’re priceless.” She rose up, held her hand out, and whispered, “Come on.”

Melpomene laced her hand into the warmer hand. She was guided to the end of the merchant’s stand. There at the corner was a selection of boots. “That’s my size.” She pointed at the boots near the end of the line.

“You sure?” questioned Janice.

“Positive.” Melpomene also bobbed her head for further confirmation.

Janice grinned, picked up the boots, took the clothes from Melpomene, and turned to the merchant.

The merchant had been at the other end of the table but he hurried down at the prospect of customers. “How can I help you… ladies?” He stated after seeing the lean, beautiful form hidden under the cloak.

“How much are these?” Janice signaled to the clothes and boots in her hands.

“Twenty dinars,” replied the man.

The archeologist almost blew up right there. “Holy shit, man that is expensive. Try three dinars.”

“I mind as well give them to you for free,” shot back the merchant.

Janice smirked. “Since you mentioned it.”

“Seventeen,” snapped the vendor, “nothing less.”

“Seven dinars,” argued the archeologist. “You’d be lucky to get this junk for five.”

“I could get it for at least fifteen,” challenged the merchant.

Janice laughed and glanced back at Joxer, “Hey Joxer, wasn’t that other merchant selling this same stuff for cheaper on the other street?”

Joxer was mute for a second then he caught on quickly. “Yes, he was offering ten dinars.”

The merchant growled in annoyance then hotly stated, “Twelve and that’s my final offer.”

Janice sighed and acted like she was really weighing this one way or the other.

“Eleven,” gave in the vendor.

Janice suddenly smiled and huffed out, “Okay… okay.” She handed the items to Melpomene, which freed both her hands. She worked the money out of her small pouch at her side in her cloak. She handed over the money then thanked the grumbling merchant. She then peered down at the girl. “Do you know where we can get a leather bag or pack, Mel?”

Joxer joined the pair and took the items from Melpomene to help her.

“There’s a good one this way.” Melpomene held out her hand then once she had Janice’s hands, she took off.

Janice almost stumbled yet she held tight while being steer through the busy market. Soon Janice had a new well tanned leather pack and she placed Melpomene’s items in them. She knew later she’d need the pack for other things to help her out.

After seeing the tanner merchant, Janice knelt down before Melpomene and gently asked, “You remember, Mel you told me about that cave?”

“You mean the one to-”

“Yes, that one,” cut off Janice, who was concerned somebody would over hear. “Will you show it to me?”

Joxer was perplexed as he tried to understand what they were whispering. He knew they were suppose to be returning back to Cyrene’s home.

“I’ll show you,” proudly offered the girl.

“Will it take us long?” inquired the archeologist.

Melpomene tapped her chin with her right index finger, her eyes fuzzy for a heartbeat. “Maybe a few candlemarks.”

Janice had no clue how long that meant but she really didn’t care. She was far too interested by this mysterious cave that Melpomene had discovered. “Take me to it, Mel.” She adjusted the pack on her back then stood up.

“Follow me.” Melpomene hurried Janice along through the street.

Joxer hesitated then he quickly followed the pair. He noticed they were going in the opposite direction of Cyrene’s home, which worried him. He came up to Janice’s side and asked, “Where are we going?”

Janice grinned wildly and joked, “For a walk on the beach.”

“What?” Joxer shook his head then added, “We need to return to Cyrene’s house.”

“We will… but later,” promised the archeologist.

Joxer suddenly became frustrated because he had no idea what was going on so he grabbed Janice’s arm roughly.

The archeologist came to an abrupt stopped and tugged Melpomene slightly behind her. She pushed Joxer off to the side of the sidewalk so they were out of the flow of traffic. “There’s something I need Mel to show me on the beach.”

“Whatever it is it can wait,” stated the guard.

“Look soldier boy,” growled Janice as she got into his face. “You can go back but I need to do something.” She poked him in the chest. “So either you can come or you can go.”

Joxer’s eyes narrowed. “Gabrielle will-”

“Have to suck it up and deal,” chided the archeologist. “She’ll be pissed at you either way. At least if you come she’ll only be half pissed since you didn’t leave Mel and me alone.”

Joxer could see by the fire in Janice’s eyes there was no way he’d talk her out of it. He also knew he’d be seeing that same fiery green when he saw Gabrielle again but Janice was right too. He let out a long sigh then relented. “Fine.”

Janice smiled broadly then teased, “Green-eyed blondes are so convincing, aren’t they?” Not waiting or wanting an answer, she continued the journey down the street.

It was about noon high when the group turned into beachcombers on the Aegean Sea side of the peninsula. Janice was trying desperately not to complain about the sand developing in her boots since she brought up this idea. She kept scanning the small cliff side to her left but she wasn’t seeing anything resembling cavern entrances.

Melpomene came to a quick halt then pointed straight ahead. “There it is.”

The archeologist narrowed her eyes at the small hole in the cliff wall that actually allowed the Aegean waters flow in and out of it. She almost cursed aloud now that she realized the cavern entrance was in fact mostly underwater. “Mel, how’d you get in there?”

The girl turned to her friend and explained, “I found it at low tide… at the new moon.”

Janice ripped her hood back and wanted to smack her forehead. Of course it was at the new moon cycle that the tide would be low and Melpomene would just stumble across it.

“Well that was a waste of time,” remarked Joxer, a smug expression.

Janice release the girl’s hand, swung off her pack, and slammed it hard into Joxer’s chest.

The guard gasped for air then he gaped when he saw Janice taking her cloak off too. “You’re not going to….”

“I don’t have much choice,” offered the archeologist.

“What’s so important about this cave?” urged the man.

Janice knelt down and started unhooking her gun. She knew that the salty water of the sea could easily rust out her gun, which she certainly didn’t want happening. “Just stay here and watch Mel for me.” She rammed the gun into her satchel that Joxer held. “And if I’m not back in half an hour, worry.”

“Half an… hour?”

Janice sighed as she yanked off her now unlaced boots. The time issue was getting on the archeologist’s nerves. “If I’m not back in a reasonable time then get back to Cyrene’s.”

Joxer opened his mouth to argue.

“Just do it,” snapped Janice and she didn’t wait for another word. She adjusted her sword on her back and started for the stream that broke the beach in half.

Melpomene sadly watched her friend go but she took two steps towards Janice’s direction. “Be careful, Janice!” she called over the din of the crashing waves.

Janice flashed a brilliant smile then took several running steps. She jumped, dove into the deep stream, and swam for the dark opening of the cave. She could only pray she’d make it especially because it’d been years since her last swim. She kept her eyes open against the sting of the salt water and she desperately searched for safety. Her eyes strained against the pitch black water then a dim light exposed itself up ahead.

Janice clenched her teeth when her lungs began to burn and her heart’s beat was slowing down. She forced her legs and arms to go faster to shoot her body through the brisk water. The archeologist followed the only light, her eyes aching, and her chest on fire but she suddenly erupted at the top.

The cavern pool filled with a loud gasp from Janice’s frantic intake of air. She brushed her wet bangs out of her face and hastily scanned the dark cavern for any signs of life. Her feet lightly skimmed over the bottom of the cave but she dared not touch her feet to the bottom incase of sharp rocks. She swam for the rock shoreline and hauled herself up onto the somewhat slimy edge.

The archeologist finished her last large gulp of needed air. Then she picked out a silhouette of something on the cavern wall so she went to it. With her hands and eyes, she figured out it was a torch yet she had nothing to light it. Janice could only wonder so she knelt down and her hands scanned over the hard surface then she came up with two interesting, rough rocks. She took a chance and banged the rocks over the torch and was rewarded by sparks setting the torch on fire.

Janice watched in amazement as stalactites suddenly formed above her from the light of the torch. Her eyes widened at the beauty of the yellow teeth that bore down at her. She released an unknown held breath then she moved forward through the cave for some time. She carefully watched her footing incase there was anything sharp on the cavern floor. Along the way, she observed other torches anchored to the walls that were scattered here and there. It was confirming her suspicions that this may lead to the Conqueror’s fortress.

Janice was never positive how long she traveled for in the beautiful cave but she came around a sharp turn then before her was a heavy wood. Behind the door, she heard a hushed voice followed by some sharp noise then another stifled voice. The door blocked her from going forward and when Janice knelt down after seeing the keyhole, she peered through it carefully.

A warm air breathed through the keyhole onto Janice’s face and she inhaled a foul, dying stench that turned her stomach. Gradually the archeologist’s keen eye for detail sharpened to the small yet plentiful image through the keyhole. The image filled her vision suddenly and it almost made Janice gasp loudly but her hand muffled the cry.

The man behind the bars dropped his head back again and screamed when the whip hit his back. His head fell forward as he dangled from the chains around his bloody wrists. He kept crying and taking the punishment that he could not refuse anyway. His red back was mutilated by ravishing whip marks.

Janice quickly turned her head away with her eyes slammed shut yet the whip’s crack then the man’s scream filtered through the keyhole into her left ear. She hastily climbed to her feet then stumbled back a few feet, her hand still over her mouth. She tried to control her upset stomach as much as the images but she lost it.

The archeologist was hunched over in a corner, her breakfast emptied from her stomach, and her legs shaking. The only thing that kept her up right was her left hand pressed against the cavern wall. She forced her legs to lifted her back up and she turned the torch back on the black wood door that kept her away from what she believed was the Conqueror’s very own Tartarus on earth.

She shook her head at the door and murmured, “I hope Mel never witnessed that.” At the thought of the child it made her realize that most likely Melpomene would be in that such position like that tortured man. The idea stirred Janice’s deepest anger and made her realize just how this ruler was blackening her very heart each day.

Janice gripped the torch in her right hand harder. Her thoughts about Melpomene reminded her that she needed to get back before it was any later. She turned back and hurried down the cave but stayed vigilant about her steps. She stopped at the cavern pool, bent over, and extinguished the torch in the cold water. After she returned to the torch to its home, she slipped into the chilled water then swam close to where the cave’s wall touched the water. She took three big breathes then dropped into the water with every intent to make it back safely.

The archeologist pushed forward and quickly through the biting water as she followed the tunnel of light. She glimpsed below her body and caught the sight of the hungry teeth of stalagmites grinning up at her. She knew she was safe as she exploded to the surface in the stream between the beaches.

“Janice!” cried a familiar voice. Melpomene jumped up from sitting on a washed up, worn tree stump.

Joxer had been leaning against the cliff side with a worried face. He smiled at seeing his charge still alive.

Melpomene helped her friend get out of the stream and onto the beach again.

Janice shivered against the sea breeze brushing against her already chilled skin.

“Here.” Joxer held out the archeologist’s cloak.

Janice happily received it and wrapped it around her body to block the breeze.

“Are you okay?” asked the worried girl.

Janice knelt down in front of the girl and she tried to ignore her need to wipe at her stinging eyes. “Mel, did you find that door at the end of the cave?”

Melpomene stared at Janice with puzzled features.

Janice abruptly grabbed the girl’s arms and fiercely demanded, “Mel, did you find that door?”

The child was shaken by Janice’s sudden aggressiveness but she hastily shook her head. “N-n-no… I didn’t find any door.”

“You swear?” urged the archeologist.

Joxer stepped closer because he could tell that the girl was frightened some. He held back when green eyes flashed a warning at him.

“I swear I didn’t,” promised the child.

Janice exhaled all her frustrations then realized how she was acting. She wanted to give the girl a hug but she couldn’t with being so soaked. She released her tension then tried to smile at Melpomene. “I’m sorry,” she murmured, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Melpomene slowly smiled now then whispered, “Its okay.” She enjoyed the returned tenderness when Janice’s fingers fixed her disarrayed hair from the sea breeze.

“How about we get back and get our warm baths?”

The young girl showed her beautiful smile. “Yes, since you really need one now. You smell like seaweed.”

The archeologist laughed but leaned in and growled, “What’d you say?” Her hands slipped down to the child’s side.

Melpomene suddenly screamed in protest when sneaky fingers found her most ticklish spots at her side and tummy. She stumbled back to get away from her attacker but she bumped into Joxer. She peered up at Joxer and demanded, “Don’t let her tickle me!”

Janice smirked up at the man then her glowing eyes lowered to her young friend. “He’s a sissy, Mel. You better pick a better protector.”

Melpomene folded her arms against her chest and proudly stated, “Joxer isn’t a sissy.”

The archeologist inwardly chuckled at this display. Her hooded eyes lifted to Joxer, who was puffing out his chest in pride too.

“I’m not, Melpomene… thank you.”

Melpomene smiled up at him then gave a brisk nod at Janice.

The archeologist relented with a soft laugh as she rose up. She efficiently clasped her cloak together with her feather pin. She stepped up to Joxer, slapped her right hand against his chest, and muttered, “Your decadent is the biggest sissy I know.” She smirked then before there was any protest, she went to her pack, scooped it up, and began the walk back to the city. As she went along she worked out her gun from the satchel then paused to slip it into its holster on her right boot.

Melpomene was horrified and she gasped. “She is so mean, Joxer.”

The guard chuckled at the girl’s teasing words. “That’s okay, Melpomene.” He held down his hand to collect hers. Although before he started walking, he bent down and cleverly stated, “At least I don’t act like her and try to be tough when I’m really sweet on the inside.”

Melpomene giggled at his words. “She really is mushy,” she exclaimed.

“I heard that!” yelled Janice from ahead.

Joxer and Melpomene laughed together at Janice’s reaction, which they fully intended to get from her. The pair hurriedly followed Janice and eventually caught up to her. When Joxer was close enough to Janice, he quietly inquired, “What’d you find in the cave?”

The stranger bit her lower lip and she debated how to answer because Melpomene was so near. Her glistened eyes met Joxer’s and she softly answered, “The door to Tartarus.”

The guard understood what Janice meant and he shook his head. “Nobody in the faction knew of that cave.”

“No, I suppose not.” Janice smirked then her husky voice teased, “Instead a homeless child discovered it.”

Joxer grunted and glimpsed at the girl in discussion. He slightly smiled then asked, “How did you befriend her?”

“The Conqueror’s soldiers were going to haul her away for stealing flatbread.”

Joxer’s features darkened. “I hate the sentries in the city. They’re as ruthless as the Conqueror.”

“She makes them that way,” summarized the disgusted archeologist.

The guard slowly nodded. “You are right, Janice.”

The small party made it back onto the streets of Corinth and by that time it was mid afternoon. Joxer instructed them that they would need to hurry so they could make it to the meeting. Janice insisted her and Melpomene needed quick baths before going to the meeting. Joxer gave in even though he knew they’d be late but he knew that a long time ago when they first started this adventure.

They arrived at Cyrene’s home yet the house was empty of anybody. Joxer knew the meeting was going to start soon, which meant Gabrielle and Cyrene were headed there. He directed Janice and Melpomene to the bathing room that was connected to Cyrene’s room. He briefed Janice on how it worked then he left them alone.

It didn’t take long for Janice and Melpomene to get cleaned up, dried, and into clean clothes except for Janice. She merely got back into her leathers that had a slight salty scent from her sea but she didn’t mind it really. The salt and leather mix was slightly appealing and it mingled with her now not so appealing flowery scent. She really disliked flowery or feminine scents on her body but she couldn’t overly complain. Finally she spotted little Melpomene coming out of the bathing room all cleaned up and into her new clothes.

Melpomene straightened out her skirt and gazed up with questioning features.

Janice chuckled at the child. “You’re beautiful, Mel.”

Melpomene smiled at this then her smile twitched into a grin. “I wasn’t before?”

Janice laughed and stepped up to the girl. She bent forward with a grin. “You were but I can see it all better now that the dirt is gone.”

Melpomene stuck her tongue out then teased back, “You don’t smell like seaweed now.”

Janice chuckled then quickly ruffled the girl’s neat hair. She made a hasty retreat when Melpomene yelped in protest.

Melpomene growled while she fixed her hair. She marched out of Cyrene’s room and glowered at the archeologist that stood by Joxer. “You’re so mean.”

Joxer was amused as he watched the stare down between the woman and the girl but to him Janice was the girl and Melpomene was the woman. He licked his lips and bit back his laughter then he innocently asked Janice, “Are you ready, kiddo?”

Janice’s head whipped around and she reacted by punching him in the arm. “I’m ready, sissy boy.” She tossed him a leering look before going to the door.

“Ow,” complained Joxer and he rubbed his right arm where Janice had punched him.

Melpomene shook her head at their supposed guard. “You are being a sissy, Joxer.” She stomped past him and went up to Janice, who was holding out her hand.

Joxer was clearly offended by the two females. He brushed it off though and approached the pair. “Women… I swear.”

The archeologist had the front door open but she displayed a warning look at her new keeper. “Watch it, Joxer.” She wagged her index finger at him then without another word, she pulled her hood over her face and slipped into the alleyway.

They entered into the now quieting streets as the merchants and customers were preparing to pack up for the day. Some people were already heading out for early dinners. But Janice, Melpomene, and Joxer had other plans, which led them five blocks away.

Joxer guided them safely through the streets. When he knew they were close, he slowed down and came to Janice’s side. “We are almost there.” He then picked out familiar faces that passed by him and he decided to mention it to Janice. “That man that just went by….” At Janice’s nod he continued. “He’s one of the faction guards.”

The archeologist was stunned. “What was he doing?”

Joxer shifted in closer so he could speak quietly. “When there is a faction meeting, the guards patrol the nearby streets… make sure there isn’t any trouble.”

“Wouldn’t they stay in the meeting room to protect them?”

“Only one does,” answered Joxer, “but the fasts way to avoid trouble is to see it in advance.”

The strange appreciated that idea completely.

“Down here,” instructed Joxer. He directed them to another wood door where he gave a specific type of knock. The door was opened by what Janice assumed to be one of the elite faction guards. The three of them slipped into the room, which wasn’t very big beyond the large table in the center of the room with a handful of people at the table.

Janice spotted Gabrielle at the head of the one end of the table and Cyrene was at the other end. She almost went to remove her hood but stopped when she realized it was probably not the right time. Instead she listened to the chatter between the council members because they were in some heated discussion.

Joxer stepped to the right of the door while the other guard kept to the left.

Janice and Melpomene stepped closer to the arguing table but they kept away and silent.

“This is impossible, Gabrielle,” shouted one man. “There is no way we can assassinate the Conqueror.”

“Even with Rhode’s abilities to get us into the Conqueror’s fortress there is a high probability of death.”

“What about Rhode’s life?” challenged another councilor. “If the Conqueror discovers that one of her advisors is in the rebel faction she won’t think twice about slitting his throat.”

Rhodes slightly paled at the mental image but he shook it away because he didn’t take on his position in the faction to lose courage now. “Gabrielle has a point that we must try.”

The councilors settled down when the very man that was closest to the Conqueror spoke.

“Rhodes, this could mean your life,” reminded a concerned member.

Rhodes sighed but he shook his head. “I wouldn’t have volunteered to join the rebel faction if I’d originally been worried about my own life.” He leaned forward and captured all of the member’s eyes. “This is dangerous for all of us… we could be exposed and the Conqueror will hunt each of us down. We didn’t start this faction just to cower under the Conqueror when there is a solution in our grasp.” His steely eyes turned to his right where Gabrielle sat next to him.

Gabrielle nodded in appreciation for the man’s words.

“Why should we take this risk when it most likely will fail?” tried a council member. “We should wait it out until a more solid plan arises.”

Rhodes opened his mouth to retaliate yet Gabrielle asked him to hold back.

Gabrielle grabbed her walking stick, which rested against her chair. She loudly slammed it on the table in front of her and that grabbed everybody’s attention solely on her. “I started this rebel faction seasons ago so that one day I could stop the Conqueror. I started this rebel faction so that the people could have hope again.” Her dark green eyes scanned the faces of her members. “I, Gabrielle of Potidaea, stood up before the Conqueror.” She closed her eyes and willed all of her inner strength to her legs. She gradually rose up and the pain flashed up and down her legs.

Rhodes inhaled sharply and tried to move to help but Gabrielle waved him off.

Gabrielle clenched her teeth yet she continued to rise up, her back lifting up as her legs straightened up to her once forgotten height. Her brow was coated in sweat and her body throbbed with tearing pain. Her eyes slowly open as she proudly stood before her council and she demanded, “And now we will all stand as one against the Conqueror.”

There was a brief, stunned silence in the room by the amazing display of the rebel leader. The leader remained poised before her followers with all of her faith and determination that held her up on her once shattered legs.

Cyrene, the Conqueror’s mother, stood up from her chair. “I, Cyrene of Amphipolis, stand against the Conqueror.”

Rhodes pushed his chair back then stood. “I, Rhodes of Corinth, stand against the Conqueror.”

Another chair scrapped across the wood floor. “I, Argus of Athens, stand against the Conqueror.”

“I, Althea of Tripolis, stand against the Conqueror.”

The din of wood scraping against wood grew louder and the chorus of united rebellion rang in the meeting room. Finally the entire council stood in unison and harmony for one purpose beyond any fears. The leader could no longer contain her smile of appreciation and she ordered, “Please be seated, everybody.” She waited until each person was seated then she slowly and painfully returned to her own chair.

Rhodes brought up the question on every councilor’s mind. “Who is the man to assassinate the Conqueror?”

Janice took her cue as she released Melpomene, stepped forward, and ripped her hood back. “I am the man.”

There was heartbeat of silence then a loud commotion of questions, demands, and pure confusion engulfed the meeting room.

Gabrielle bowed her head as her ears were hit by all the mangled voices. When the silence finally returned she lifted her head and revealed a growing grin at her members’ clear state of perplexity. If she pulled another surprise on them during this meeting she was almost convinced they’d all probably kick her out of the faction.

Janice was absolutely smug, arms over her chest, and a broad grin. She listened to her ancestor weave the tale about her seeming identical twin, which left every member breathless. She then sensed a small hand touched her right hand so she peered down at her young, innocent friend.

Melpomene offered a warm smile and she received back a wink from Janice.

The archeologist lifted her head though when the council started talking about the plan to assassinate the Conqueror. She carefully listened roughly worked out plans, which she was relieved to hear the council agreeing to mostly. She picked up on everybody’s largest concern, which was how Janice was going to get into the Conqueror’s undetected. Rhodes was the first to try a suggestion but it was too risky for him and Janice.

Janice took her opening when there was a mostly quietness. “I found a way into the Conqueror’s.”

The councilors went silent and some had to twist around to glimpse at Gabrielle’s double.

Janice squeezed Melpomene’s hand then guided her to Gabrielle. She stood next to Gabrielle so that everybody had a better view of her. “Actually, I didn’t find it… it was my friend, Melpomene, here that discovered it.”

The councilors peered down at the young girl, who suddenly became shy from the attention. She tucked herself between Janice and Janice’s cloak.

The archeologist cleared her throat then explained, “There is a hidden cave on the Aegean side that leads to the Conqueror’s.”

“How can you be sure?” inquired Gabrielle, her head twisted and studying her descendant.

The archeologist dazzled a smile. “I followed it today.” She saw the narrowing of Gabrielle’s eyes so Gabrielle now knew why Janice was fashionably late to the meeting. Janice ignored the look though and before she said anymore about what she found, she covered Melpomene’s ears. “There was a locked door at the end of the cave’s tunnel. When I peered through the keyhole I realized it was looking into a dungeon.”

“It’s an escape route,” concluded Rhodes, “I never realized the Conqueror had such.”

“Well she does,” stated Janice, “and it’s perfect route to get into her fortress.” She finally removed her hands from covering Melpomene’s ears but she rested her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “I think it’s the easiest way into there.”

Rhodes thought this out then he perked up. “Some of the guards in the dungeon that we’ve bribed could help.”

“Do you think you can find out who has a key to that door?” inquired the leader.

Rhodes leaned towards Gabrielle. “Of course, Gabrielle… I am the Conqueror’s advisor of state.”

Several people chuckled at the deceptive man.

The bard smirked. “Make it happen, Rhodes.”

Rhodes dipped his head in agreement.

“What then?” urged Councilor Argus.

“We need to pull the Conqueror’s attention away from the fortress,” suggested Cyrene.

Gabrielle considered this idea. “Perhaps we need to stir up trouble in the city.”

“We could start some minor riots,” suggested a prominent councilor.

As Janice listened to them go on, she scanned over the various council members. She was astonished to find such a mix among the members as they were males and females, wealthy and poor, artists to politicians, Greek to Gaelic, and old to young. The cruelest tyrant had managed to destroy social restrictions and bring together these people in one purpose.

The meeting started to wind down when the members all began agreeing on certain terms and plans. When the meeting was almost to a close, the main door flew open before the guards could react.

“There’s trouble!” called a man as he rushed into the room.

Joxer slammed the door shut after resheathing his sword.

Janice turned her head to see Perdicus breathing heavily, probably from running.

“What’s happened?” demanded Gabrielle.

“The Conqueror has discovered you’re not dead, Gabrielle.” Perdicus hurried over to the leader. “Alti called in for your cross and when… the Conqueror is furious.”

Rhodes stood up. “What is she doing?”

Perdicus gulped for air then hastily answered, “The Conqueror has ordered her sentry squads to storm every building in the city until she finds Gabrielle. They’re searching every place and asking everybody.” His frantic features lowered to Gabrielle. “I have already executed the escape plans, Gabrielle. We must get you out of here.”

The rebel leader was pale but her mind caught up with the reeling information. “I can’t leave when the plans for the assassination are beginning.”

“There will be no plans if you die,” hotly reminded Perdicus.

“You must escape, Gabrielle,” agreed Rhodes. “If she finds you….” He couldn’t bring himself to finish his own words.

“I have survived her death once already,” argued the frustrated bard.

Janice grasped her ancestor’s shoulder. “You will not live this time if you do not leave, Gabrielle.” Her eyes captured Gabrielle’s and held her. “You must survive for this to work.”

“What about you?” whispered the worried bard.

“I will be fine,” promise the archeologist.

Joxer stepped away from the door to join in the conversation. “I will protect her, Gabrielle… with my sword and my life.”

The archeologist was stunned by the gesture from the man she hadn’t considered much of a friend back in her time. It warmed her to some degree.

Gabrielle turned her worried eyes to Cyrene.

Cyeren stood up and definitively stated, “We must go, Gabrielle before the Conqueror locks down the gates.”

“The cart will be here any moment,” interrupted Perdicus. He lifted his head to the council. “You all must hurry back to your homes before the sentries show.”

“I need to get my ass to the Conqueror’s fortress,” hissed Rhodes and he started to move along with the rest of the council.

Gabrielle snatched up her stick and stood up.

Janice faced her ancestor. “Where will you go?”

“I don’t know,” confessed the bard, “but away from here. Perdicus and two other guards will go with us. We may return to Amphipolis until its safe again.”

“No,” cut in Janice, “you won’t be safe there.” At seeing Gabrielle’s protest, she grabbed her ancestor’s shoulders. “Trust me on this.”

“Where should we go then?” tried Cyrene.

The archeologist’s gaze flickered between Cyrene and Gabrielle then she answered, “To the Amazons.”

“The Amazons?” echoed Perdicus. “They will not help us.”

“Yes they will,” fought back Janice, her burning eyes on the guard. She turned back to her ancestor. “Ask for Ephiny… tell her you met me and that I asked her to help you. If she doesn’t believe you then tell her that….” She paused and faintly grinned despite things. “Tell her that Janny sent you.”

Gabrielle’s nose crinkled at the nickname but she dared not to ask.

Joxer had unknowingly left the meeting hunt when all the members had filtered out earlier. He returned and announced, “The cart is here, Gabrielle.”

“Let’s go,” ordered Perdicus.

The group hurried out of the meeting room and into the alleyway. Janice was the last out because she had to scoop up the frightened Melpomene. Janice spied the cart at the end of the alleyway with two guards in it already and waiting for Cyrene and Gabrielle. Janice’s emotions surged up as she realized what she had to do now.

“Gabrielle, you must take Melpomene with you.”

Cyrene quickly moved over and grabbed the child’s waist. When she tried to lift Melpomene from Janice’s grasp it was impossible.

“No,” cried Melpomene, who clung tightly to Janice. “I won’t go!”

“Ssssh, sssh.” Janice shifted away from Cyrene, bent down, and lowered the girl to the ground. “Its okay, Mel.”

Melpomene’s eyes suddenly started to sting and her cheeks became wet. “I won’t go… I won’t leave you.”

“Ooo god.” Janice wiped the girl’s tears away but she couldn’t stop them. “You have to go, Mel. You could get hurt… or worse if you stay with me.”

“No,” rasped the emotional child. Her vise grip on Janice’s two cloak sleeves weren’t loosening. “I saw the Conqueror kill my first sister… she won’t take you too!” She frantically shook her head. “I won’t let her,” she whispered then threw herself into Janice’s body.

Janice enveloped the desperate, crying girl. “I have to do this, Mel.,” she whispered. Her dammed emotions broke and her tears trickled down her hot cheeks. How could that ruler be so heartless and cold to kill this innocent child’s sister? Janice’s anger raged along side her passionate heart.

“No you don’t,” whimpered the girl, “you’ll die if you do.”

“No I won’t,” promised Janice, “you’ll see me again.”

Melpomene cried out, “No I won’t!”

“Sssh, ssssh it’s okay.” Janice pulled her head back and wiped the soaked bangs from the child’s forehead. “If you stay, Mel I won’t be able to do this right.” She searched the girls terrified yet loving eyes. “I’ll be too worried about you then I could be killed.”

“No,” sobbed the girl, “please, Janice.”

Janice wiped the wet crystals still pouring down the child’s face. “Listen, okay?” When Melpomene nodded her head she whispered, “I promise you, Mel that I will be fine and that I’ll see you afterwards. I swear.” She then freed her right hand and placed it over the Melpomene’s chest. “Do you have faith?”

Melpomene was still crying but she wasn’t shaking her head anymore. She freed her right hand too then placed it against Janice’s chest, just over her heart. “I have faith.” She felt the steady heartbeat under her small hand.

Janice scooped the girl back into her arms and placed a kiss to her cheek while standing back up. She stepped up to Cyrene and held out the girl.

Cyrene carefully pulled Melpomene into her arms.

Melpomene buried her face into Cyrene’s neck so that her cries would be muffled.

Janice’s hand trailed down Melpomene’s back one last time then she stepped back. Her teeth were gritted against her emotions. “Now go before it’s too late.”

“Come on,” whispered Perdicus, who was in agreement with Janice.

Cyrene turned and jogged down the alley with her precious bundle.

Perdicus stepped up to Gabrielle. “I’m sorry, Gabrielle but we have to move.”

The bard grasped her guard’s shoulder to make him pause. “Do not fail that little girl, Janice.” Her feelings caved in finally and a few tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Keep her safe,” rasped Janice.

“With my life,” promised Gabrielle. “Please be safe.”

“You too. Now please go.” Janice stepped back until she was next to Joxer.

Perdicus bent then neatly picked up the rebel leader into his arms. He adjusted her for the heartbeat then after a brisk nod to Joxer, he hurried down the alleyway to the waiting cart.

The archeologist stood motionless except for the tears trickling down her red cheeks. Her chest was heaving against her emotions. All she could do was watch as Gabrielle, Cyrene, and Melpomene were hidden under heavy blankets to obscure their forms.

Perdicus gave a shout to the driver.

The cart lurched forward into the street.

Melpomene’s head popped out from under the blankets. Her loving eyes held Janice’s until finally the cart rounded a corner and was gone.

Janice closed her eyes and furiously wiped her tears away. She fought her feelings back down again in hopes she’d get some clarity. When it did come something else filled her ears and it was the sounds of yelling and screaming. She turned the opposite way and faced the screams that floated through the city.

Joxer swallowed and murmured, “It has begun… the hunt is on.”

“Where will we go?” answered the archeologist.

“Back to the beach.” The guard shifted closer then whispered, “I’ve made arrangements for supplies to be brought to us later. We must go now though.” He checked his sword then ordered, “Listen to everything I tell you. Stay close. And don’t look back.”

Janice bit the inside of her mouth roughly but she nodded and pulled her hood over. When Joxer took off at a run her adrenaline broke free and pushed her forward with amazing speed. She reached into her deepest strength to help her survive this trial.
Chapter 7 – Welcome to Tartarus on Earth

Joxer rubbed his hands together then held them out over the fire. He glimpsed over at Janice, who was huddled by the fire too so she’d be warm against the biting sea breeze. He lowered his now warm hands to his lap. He then twisted his head around when he saw a dark outline of somebody coming towards them in the night. He quickly stood and unsheathed his sword in worry.

Janice also got up and her fingertips grazed her sword hilt at her back.

“Ho, Joxer,” called a man.

Joxer relaxed and lowered his sword at hearing the familiar voice. “I thought you forgot us, Palaemon.”

“Now would I really do that?” challenged the grinning man as he held out two leather packs. When Joxer took them, he swung off a third from his back. “You should be happy to see me.”

“I am,” agreed Joxer. He then pointed to Janice on the other side of the fire. “Palaemon, this is Janice.”

The archeologist’s slow grin spread over her features when Palaemon stared at her in amazement.

“They weren’t kidding,” he remarked, “she looks just like Gabrielle.”

Janice rolled her eyes at being discussed, yet again, in third person as if she wasn’t here. She stepped up to the tall man and narrowed her eyes at him. “I also have a worse temper than Gabrielle.”

Palaemon held up his hands in surrender. “I won’t argue… Gabrielle’s temper is scary enough.”

Janice smirked and went over to Joxer to see what were in the packs. Her stomach had been growling all evening since they made it out of the city.

“Did they make it out of the city safely?” asked Janice. She straightened up with a skin in her left hand.

Palaemon folded his arms over his leather clad chest. “Yes, just in time too.” He then tilted his head some. “I heard you’ll have to do some diving to get into the Conqueror’s so I brought a waterproof sack.”

Joxer just found that pack and removed the oily feeling leather from the satchel. “That’s perfect, Palaemon. Thank you for thinking of it.”

Palaemon had a wide grin. “I’m always thinking ahead, you know.”

Joxer chuckled and straightened up after laying out the items in the sand. “Do you need to get back?”

“Yes,” sighed out Palaemon, “the councilors are high strung tonight about what’s happened.”

“Nobody was hurt?” persisted Janice.

Palaemon ran his tongue along the backside of his front teeth.

“Shit, what happened?” insisted the archeologist.

Palaemon shook his head as his arms slipped from his chest. “The people were frightened and the sentries were ruthless because the Conqueror was so angry. Some people’s homes were wrecked others were jailed because they refused to answer a soldier’s questions. It was chaos.”

Janice dropped her head and tangled her fingers in her short, blond hair.

Palaemon saw the reaction and he quietly stated, “Trust me, Janice when I say the Conqueror in her warlord days she was much worse.”

The archeologist dropped her hand down and peered up at the man. “You’re telling me she’s soft now?”

“In comparison, yes,” admitted Palaemon sadly.

Janice bit her lower lip then stomped off in the heat of her anger.

Joxer neared his fellow guard and asked, “How many were imprisoned?”

Palaemon’s lips tightened together. “At least a couple hundred… I’m not really sure.”

“And I’m sure the Conqueror is even more furious that they didn’t find Gabrielle,” mentioned Janice as she came back to the pair. “She won’t stop searching until she has Gabrielle.”

“She won’t… you’re right,” agreed Joxer.

“Most likely,” started Palaemon, “she’ll search the city for another six days then send out spies and bounty hunters to find Gabrielle.”

Joxer put his arms over his chest and muttered, “There’ll be a reward out on her head.”

“Those damn Amazons better take her in,” growled the archeologist.

Joxer shook his head and his sad eyes met Janice’s. “They may not because she’s high risk.”

“They will,” hotly stated the archeologist.

There was an awkward silence but Palaemon broke it when he realized something. “Tomorrow Rhodes promised somebody would open the door in the dungeon.”

Janice perked up at this news. “He say what time?”

“He didn’t have an exact time,” confessed Palaemon, “but around Helios high.”

This goddamn time thing again, mentally complained Janice. She considered Palaemon’s words carefully and realized that he meant at noon. Her head started to bob now. “Alright, that works.”

“After that, you’re on your own,” added Palaemon. “There’s not much that Rhodes can do without being caught and jeopardizing everything.”

Janice exhaled loudly. “Alright.” She moved away from the pair and went to the spread out articles in the sand.

“I should go,” mentioned Palaemon. “I’ll see you later, Joxer.” He then held up a hand to Janice in a goodbye gesture. “Good luck and be safe, Janice.”

“Thanks, Palaemon.” The archeologist flashed a smile then briefly watched him go.

Joxer neared Janice and squatted down beside her. “We should eat then get some rest… tomorrow will be a….”

“A day in hell,” mumbled the archeologist.

The pair organized all of the supplies that Palaemon had brought them. They first positioned their bedrolls and furs by the fire then sat down to quietly eat their meal. The dinner consisted of dry beef, cheese, fruit, and diluted wine in the skins. The mild wine helped to warm the two’s bodies against the cold wind that came off the sea. After eating, Joxer showed Janice how to use the water resistant satchel and explained that it could be tied to her waist while she swam so that she wouldn’t have to hold it. Janice was grateful for the bag as it would keep her gun from rusting in the salt water along with her bullets.

Joxer then gave the archeologist a sheathed dagger that Palaemon had also included. He helped her wiggle the dagger into her boot so that she knew how to perfectly conceal it other than the small hilt. Janice was starting to feel like a walking war zone but then again if she was going to survive the Conqueror’s Tartarus, she would need these items.

Finally by the middle of the night, they pair curled up in their furs and bedrolls to get some rest. Janice for her part couldn’t find her dreams tonight because her mind was working so hard to figure out tomorrow. She didn’t know what the inside of the Conqueror’s fortress would look like or how to find the Conqueror. She only knew she’d have to hunt down the Conqueror then secretly setup in hiding so she could get a clear shot. All she needed were enough seconds to pull her revolver’s hammer back, take aim, and pull the trigger then it would be almost over.

The morning came all too fast but the pair quickly moved to get ready. Janice made sure her gun was loaded then she put it into the waterproof satchel along with her gun, spare pouch of bullets, the dagger, her boots, and finally her cloak.

“Are you ready for this?” Joxer walked along side the short blond to the stream just ahead.

“I’d like to think I am but I’m probably not,” admitted the archeologist. “I’m as ready as I’m going to be.” She stopped at the edge of the stream and faced Joxer. “What will you do?”

“I will stay here for a few days… wait for your return,” answered the guard. “Don’t be foolish with your life, Janice.”

Janice grinned. “I think it’s a little late for that.”

The guard held out his arm.

Janice clasped it in a brisk shake. She then released him while saying, “Thank you, Joxer.”

Joxer only dipped his head.

The archeologist turned to the stream, placed her waterproof satchel near the edge, and she jumped into the water.

The guard went to the edge and watched Janice tie the short rope to her waist then he handed the satchel to her. “Be safe, Janice.”

“I’ll try my best but no promises.” Janice brushed her soaked bangs back. “Don’t wait too long for me.” She had the other end of the rope tied to the satchel and she let go of the satchel.

The satchel sunk down into the water but it didn’t weigh all the way as it floated some in the water.

“Bye, Joxer.” Janice flashed a confident grin then she dove under.

“Bye… Janice.” Joxer stood up and watched the silhouette pulse through the water and disappear underneath the cavern wall that went into the water.

Janice just made it to the surface in the cavern pool just pass the cavern tunnel wall. She quietly bobbed up to the top of the water but she didn’t cross the pool when something caught her ear. She silently lowered her head deeper into the water just so the water was under her nose.

The first strange thing she noticed was that the torches were all lit in the tunnel. It made her skin crawl because that could only mean trouble. The noise down in the cavern tunnel was getting nearer and turned into distinct voices of men just idly talking.

Janice tried to ignore the cold in her body from the water. She finally saw the two loud men round the bend ahead and they were pushing a wood cart. She tried to figure out what in the world they had in the cart but they were too far for her to figure it out. She lifted her head some so that she could take some large gulps of air. Just as the two soldiers neared the pool, Janice had disappeared under the water to hide.

The archeologist tried to still her mind’s fears of being found. She had her eyes closed for a second then she opened them when she heard a noise in the water. About fifty feet ahead she saw a dark cloud form in the water and the cloud expanded further out as the stream pulled it towards her. Then Janice covered her mouth with a clenched fist when she saw a human skull fall out of the bottom of the dark cloud and hit the floor of the pool. The skull came to a rolling stop on top of two other skulls that Janice hadn’t seen earlier. Suddenly her eyes widened as she realized exactly what those two soldiers were dumping into the pool.

Janice couldn’t take it and she didn’t care if those soldiers were there or not. She broke the top of the water and gulped on fresh air. She was relieved to see the soldiers were already carting back down the tunnel. Her breathing wasn’t slowing down when she saw the dark cloud was moving towards her. The thought of swimming in human ashes almost made Janice sick right there but she hurried to the closest edge of the pool and away from the expanding cloud.

Janice hauled herself up onto the edge, yanked her satchel out of the water, and curled up so she could calm down and warm her body back up. She sat there breathing heavily and watching the cloud became washed out by the flowing stream. She lowered her face into her hands and rasped, “Ooo my god.” Her mind flashed with an image of the skull staring up at her before it landed on the others at the bottom. “Holy… shit.” She’d seen plenty human remnants in her days as an archeologist but this was far different since these were from people recently alive and she was swimming in it.

Now Janice clearly understood the second use of this tunnel. They would cremate the dead bodies in the dungeons then dump their ashes in the stream so they would float out to the Aegean Sea. Her thought process was broken when there was a heavy slam at the end of the tunnel echoing down to her. She now knew the soldiers had gone back into the dungeon, which made it safe for her.

The archeologist willed her body to move so she shifted around until she was partially in the tunnel way. She opened her satchel and took out her cloak first. She got it on and clasped it in place as her body started to warm again. She then got her boots tied on followed by her gun in its home then last her dagger tucked in her left boot. Janice climbed to her feet and rolled up the proofed satchel with its roped and tucked it behind some rocks incase she needed it later.

Janice then yanked her hood over her face before she trailed down the tunnel. She would meet the maker on the other side of the door to Tartarus. She wasn’t sure how long she waited by the door, for it to open with either those two soldiers again or the bribed soldier that was going to let her through.

There was a clank then a click from the door and slowly it started to swing open.

Janice was instantly off the rock and unsheathing her sword just incase.

A soldier with beady eyes poked his head around the door and narrowed at Janice. “Rhodes sent you?”

The archeologist mutely nodded and lowered her sword to her side.

The soldier opened the door more then stepped aside at the mysterious figure floated by him. He slammed the door shut, locked it, and murmured, “There are three levels for the dungeon. You’re on the third. The only way up is down that way.” He pointed in a general direction then his ring of keys dangled at his side where he reattached them. He smirked at the stranger and stated, “Good luck, fella.” Without another word, he turned to this right and marched down a torch lit hallway.

Janice scanned the room, which had cells against either side of the walls then in the middle were cages. She wasn’t surprised at all by the number of people in all of them. Her stomach turned as she recognized the man that’d been whipped yesterday. He had his back to Janice but he was lying on the floor of his cage, slumped against it, and still slightly bleeding from yesterday.

Janice swallowed then adjusted her cloak around her body to conceal her better. She could see the prisoners were trying to figure her out, well the ones that were still somewhat alive. She glimpsed down the hall that the soldier had went down earlier and she detected the foul stench of burning bodies and the blazing heat of fire floating in the air. She now knew where the crematorium was located and it wasn’t on her list of places to see.

Janice gathered her strength and began silently down the rows of cages. She kept her eyes diverted from the cages and cells so that it wouldn’t play with her mentally. She stepped through a doorway into a short hall where there was a wood door to her left. She grabbed the door handle and hesitated on whether to open it or not. After a steadying breath, she carefully drew the door open and discovered a set of winding, torch lit steps. She exhaled in relief then slipped in and closed the door silently.

Janice crept up the steps, against the wall, and listening for anybody that may be coming. It wound up for several cases and finally leveled to another door. Just as she reached the door it already started to open. Janice cursed under her breath and jumped behind the door as it opened up. She pressed her back as hard as she could against the cold stone and prayed they wouldn’t detect her yet.

A sentry soldier marched onto the platform and before he descended the steps, he threw the door shut. He started to take his first step however he paused and turned his to the left.

“Hi,” greeted Janice.

The sentry’s eyes widened but before he could react he was suddenly slammed by a hard fist to the face.

Janice quickly moved behind him and executed a kick to his back legs.

The soldier yelped but lost his balance completely and went flying down the steps. He smashed his head into the stone wall, went unconscious, and slid down a few more steps.

Janice huffed, threw open the door, and slipped out into level two of the dungeon. Here she didn’t really find cells exactly but instead there were people hanging from the ceiling in cages or dangling midair from rafters by their lashed hands. Some prisoners were even hanging upside down.

The archeologist’s stomach pitched but she controlled her natural urge to be sick. She hurried across the large room and wondered where the next steps may be. She went to the opposite wall and observed another hallway but this one much longer. She pressed against the cold wall and her eyes briefly closed when a cry of pain echoed down the hallway.

Janice swallowed and slipped into the hallway but she unsheathed her sword to be safe. She stopped by the door where there was another raging cry and there was a small barred window in the door. Her curiosity got the best of her and she glimpsed through the tiny window.

In the room beyond the door there was a murky pool of water and in it was a woman, who was locked in a cage. Along the four ledges of the pool were men and they each held long spears at the ready. The woman was trying to stay afloat in the feces infested water but each time she grabbed the bars of the cage the men would lunge at her hands. Her hands were already cut and her right top hand had a bleeding hole in it.

Janice turned and bent forward as she tried to remain in control of her body’s reaction. Why did she have to look in there? She’d heard of the water torture before in Ancient China but she never imagined seeing it here in Greece. Suddenly her attention was grabbed when the door to her right was opening so she hunkered down with her sword up.

A sentry stepped out, his back to Janice, and he closed the door next to him. He then marched into the main room where the prisoners were hanging.

The archeologist wondered if that was the next steps so she waited a few seconds. Then when there was a scream from that woman in the room, Janice moved away quickly. She silently opened the heavy door and discovered another set of stairs. She hastily ascended them because she was nervous that second sentry would find the one she’d knocked out earlier.

Janice shoved the door open and stepped into a long hallway. On her left and right were doors after doors with bar windows, which she assumed were merely true prison cells. She spun her sword, bent forward, and quickly raced down the hallway but she came short when a sentry came around the sharp corner.

The sentry was stunned but he recovered quickly by unsheathing his sword. “Stop!” he yelled.

Janice growled and charged the man. This wasn’t what she needed right now as it could sound an alarm. She acted quickly by ramming her sword against his, locking their swords between their bodies, and she shoved him against the wall to hold him down. Before he could push her off, she rammed her knee between his legs.

The sentry’s eyes rolled up and he gasped in pain. He lowered his hand to his groin as he fell to his knees.

Janice lifted her sword and brought her hilt down on his head roughly. She quickly caught the soldier before his limp body could make a loud bang on the stone floor. She carefully lowered him down then she glimpsed to her left to a shorter hallway through two open, heavy wood doors. She spun her sword gracefully and hurried down that hall that was well lit by the windows. The windows were level with the ground and overlooking an empty courtyard.

Janice came to the end of the hall and bent down next to the corner. She peered around the corner and looked into some sort of lobby room. She saw she could go right or left so she decided on the left hallway.

The archeologist swiftly moved through the vacant hallway and made another left when she came to a ‘T’. She quickly floated down this next hall but she stopped when there was footfall coming from the other end. She was close to a door so she grabbed the ring, swung it open, and spun around into the room. She silently closed the door and listened to the person walk by without a care. She realized she’d found another set of staircase that went up one level. Janice shrugged and went up steps and found herself in another hallway.

Janice stood against the door and looked to her right at the empty hall then to her left where it was empty. She had no clue where she was or where she was going nor could she recall where to go to get back. It truly didn’t matter to her so she went down to the right and she noted the various bronze plates on the doors. She couldn’t read the Greek syntax at all but she could only guess.

A door at the end of the hall opened with two voices furiously arguing. Janice paused when the soldier kept yelling at someone in the room. She turned her head to the left and grabbed the door. She couldn’t read the syntax on the door but she didn’t care and could only pray. She slipped through the small opening and quietly shut the door.

Janice took in her new surroundings and detected the loud and unfamiliar voices talking down below. Her heart pounded against her chest suddenly as she had a suspicion about where she was now. In font of her was a railing, which overlooked something below so she slowly crept forward.

Janice’s stiffened when her eyes went over the railing and down below at ground level sat a throne at the end of a court. Her view of the occupant of the throne was obscured but the pounding of heart told her who it had to be. Gradually her eyes wondered off to the right where there were a handful of people talking and debating about something or another.

Janice hunched over so that her body was hidden and with small steps she slinked down the balcony that wrapped around the courtroom below. She achieved some distance about halfway so she paused and carefully glimpsed over the rim of the railing to finally see the person at the throne.

There seated in the throne was the ruthless Conqueror adorning her battle ready black leathers and simple brass armor. Her black and purple cape flowed over her throne to her feet. Her midnight hair covered her broad shoulders and her magnificent blue eyes were visible even to Janice from so far.

“They are all fools,” chewed out a husky voice.

The Conqueror held up her hand to the woman at the right of her throne.

Janice instantly recognized Alti’s voice and her skin crawled at seeing the evil shaman beside the ruler.

“She can’t hide forever,” reminded the Conqueror, “She’ll come to us… again.” Her steel blue eyes wondered back over to the people before her and they settled on one man. “Commander, what is the status of the legions in Gaul?”

The commander stepped out from the crowd, first bowed, and straightened up. “They have reached the borders, my liege.”

The ruler’s eyes narrowed. “Are they prepared?”

The commander cleared his throat and put his hands behind his back. He puffed out his metal clad chest before stating, “Almost, my liege.” He tensed when the ruler rose up from her throne with her cape flowing behind her.

The Conqueror took one step down. “I don’t like almost.” She took the second step down. “Either my legions are prepared or they are not.” She took the final step off the dais and towered over the commander. “Are they prepared, Commander Maleager?”

The commander broke under the powerful ruler’s will. “They await your word, my liege.”

The ruler held his gaze then she smiled suddenly. “Excellent.” She turned and ascended each step slowly. She hesitated when a soldier hurried into the courtroom. She neared him at the edge of her dais, listened carefully, and waved him off in annoyance.

The Conqueror’s back was to them as she stated, “I want the Norselands under my flag in six months, commander.” She turned around and stood in front of her throne.

“My liege, the winter has already set in up there. The legions could easily die in this weather that we’re not prepared for.”

“Then I suggest you hurry before the weather turns worse!” yelled the ruler. “If you fail me, commander I will have your head for this. I tire of waiting for the Norselands under my reign.”

Janice heaved a breath at hearing the Conqueror’s legions all the way up into the Netherlands now. She’d heard enough so she reached down to her gun. She unhooked it and slowly while biting her lower lip pulled the hammer back. By god she had to have true aim more than ever if this was going to work. She held her gun next to her head, her eyes closed, and her lips silently moved with a prayer. She swallowed then gradually lifted her body with her knees.

Janice stretched out her revolver with both her hands clutching the handle. Her right index finger touched the trigger. She forced her mind and eyes to focus together as she took aim at the dark ruler that mirrored Melinda Pappas. She was breathing heavy, her brow showing perspiration, and her hands sweaty against the cold steel of her gun. Janice stole one last calming breath as her scope of view aligned to the Conqueror’s chest perfectly. In that heartbeat, Janice’s world stilled and her index finger made the slow journey pulling the trigger.

The Conqueror’s head snapped up to the balcony when a metal item flashed light into her falcon eyes. She gave a piercing warcry as her right hand slipped to her side. She was so incredibly beautiful in her dangerous speed that freed her chakram.

First there was the eerie whistle of the chakram then a low explosion sounded from the balcony. Next was a wrenching scream from Janice’s lips when the circular weapon sliced up her right arm. The last defining sound was the revolver’s echoing clank when it hit the marble floor in the courtroom far below.

The Conqueror was momentarily hunched forward from an unknown, sharp pain in her left shoulder. She clenched her teeth and brought her right hand up to catch her chakram that returned. “Stop him!”

Janice had fallen behind the rail when her arm had been neatly sliced. She desperately tried to stop the bleeding but it was useless; it wasn’t too deep. Her ears rang with the commotion of people scrambling and yelling. She lifted her head when she heard something just several feet away from her. To her amazement there knelt the Conqueror in all her fury, sword at the ready, and the chakram in her left hand.

Janice scrambled to her feet and brushed her shock away at how the ruler managed to get up here so easily. She unsheathed her sword but her body was shaking in fear. She knew it was impossible for her to defeat this powerful woman in sword to sword combat.

The Conqueror straightened up to her staggering height and flicked her wrist so her sword spun. She took a menacing step towards her hooded attacker.

Janice licked her lips and stepped back once. Her attention was briefly stolen away when the door behind her and the door behind the ruler were flung open. Suddenly Janice was surrounded by the soldiers pouring onto the balcony.

The soldiers were given a hidden signal from their ruler so they remained battle ready with swords out.

The Conqueror bared her teeth at Janice and she moved so fast she almost seemed to vanish.

Janice yelped as she lifted her sword and stopped the slashing sword attack. She jumped away but she recalled the soldiers behind her. There was no way she could survive so she threw away all reason and lunged at the great ruler.

The Conqueror was remotely surprised but she parried the enemy’s fruitless attacks. She used her chakram to catch her enemy’s sword in it then she ripped the sword from his hands. She watch in complete satisfaction as the sword went airborne. For a brief heartbeat, the Conqueror saw the design of the sword hilt that she was all too familiar with from her past.

Janice backed away when the Conqueror’s sword tip pointed at her throat. Her ears filled with the din of her Amazon sword clanking against the marble floor below and she inwardly curse herself for losing her gun so easily. She was so angry that she’d done this that her rage made her act out. Janice suddenly ducked around the Conqueror’s blade, leapt into the air, and beautiful maneuvered her dagger from her left boot.

The Conqueror growled as the small body slammed hard into hers. She crashed onto her back with her sword and chakram skidding out of her grasp. She sensed the cold steel against her throat but her powerful hands wrapped around her attacker’s small wrists and she pressed away easily. After a dangerous hiss, she rolled the small body under hers and she reversed the dagger’s direction until it was against her enemy’s own throat.

For the first time, the Conqueror had a clear view of her attacker’s features under the hood. She was astounded to see fiery green eyes cursing up at her and the soft features of a woman. She threw off her astonishment and pressed the dagger down hard until the blade began cutting the woman’s neck.

Janice gritted her teeth then a cry escaped her lips.

The Conqueror lowered her head down close and whispered, “Almost is never good enough, is it?” She suddenly fisted her right hand that was free and she brought it down.

Janice’s head snapped to the right and her body instantly went limp.

The Conqueror dropped the dagger next to the attacker’s head. Then she ripped the hood away to reveal a beautiful blond she was very familiar with for a moon now. She grounded her teeth at all the implications this meant and it made no sense either. She suddenly climbed up to her feet but her cape hid the woman’s face.

“Who is it?” demanded Alti, who’d slipped between the soldiers.

The ruler grabbed the right side of her cape and threw it out of the way.

Alti tensed at seeing the face of the woman she’d kidnapped a moon ago from the future.

“Perhaps you could tell me, Alti,” hissed the angry ruler.

The dark shaman lifted her eyes to the ruler then quietly remarked, “I will find out.”

The Conqueror stepped up to the shaman and chewed out, “See that you do… then it’ll be my turn.” Her head snapped up from Alti and locked on the soldiers behind her. “Get this woman to a damn cell. Find out how the Hades she got into here.” When her men hesitated because they too recognized the attacker as the rebel leader, she yelled, “Now!” She collected her weapons and put them in their homes. She went to the railing, bent her knees, and jumped.

Everybody in the court below watched as the ruler soared and landed neatly on the floor with bent knees then she rose up to her threatening height.

The Conqueror bent over the two weapons her attacker had utilized and she scraped them up. She tucked the gun away into some hiding spot within her cape, behind her back. She quickly examined the sword and it confirmed it was very much an Amazon sword. She would have her answers later but she gave a wild grin at her advisors in the court. “Where were we?”

The advisors hastily started talking like nothing happened.

Rhodes, the advisor of state, had slinked into the back of the group. He wiped his sweating brow and tried to calm his irrational thoughts about what just happened. He had to keep a cool head if he was going to outsmart any of this later.

Janice Covington’s head rolled from left to right then fell back on cold stone. She tried to open her eyes but her left eye refused as it was swollen shut, the pain thumping. Janice managed her right eye open and she was staring up at a chiseled stone ceiling. She rolled to her left side, which caused her stomach to pitch at the movement. She swallowed down the swimming of her stomach before her contents came up. Her right hand touched her aching stomach and that’s when her right arm screamed at her for moving.

Janice hissed at the fiery pain that flashed up and down her arm from her earlier fight with the Conqueror. She finally decided it was time to sit up so she slowly rose up but when her feet tried to move under her, there was a heavy weight around her ankles. She was not too surprised to find shackles around her ankles. She merely sat up and studied her new surroundings, which was a prison cell that consisted of three walls and a heavy wood door in front of her. She tensed when she realized there was a man’s face in the small, barred window on the other side. She assumed he was a posted soldier.

The soldier gave a toothy grin but said nothing. He remained still there, watching her, and wondering about her.

Janice touched her throat where there was a slight sting. Her fingertips revealed blood from the cut on her neck. She then dared to touch her left eye but she hissed at the pain. “Goddamn,” she growled. She then looked up when the guard shuffled out of the window. There a harsh command and the soldier opened the door.

The archeologist exhaled loudly when the dark shaman floated into the cell. “Great,” she muttered.

Alti stood in front of the door that shut behind her and locked. She glided across the cell and stopped in the middle, her dark eyes locked on her small target. “Did you really think you had any chance?” She took two steps closer then knelt down so she was level with the small woman. “The Conqueror knew of the rebel faction’s plans. You’re a fool, Janice.”

The archeologist was breathing heavy because of her mounting anger and hatred for this shaman. Yet she gave an amused grin and brazenly ordered, “You can call me Doctor Covington, doll.”

Alti became enraged and her right hand shot out, wrapping around the woman’s already injured throat. She snarled while standing up and lifting the archeologist up off the ground so that her boots dangled over the stone floor. “You are in no position to be stupid.”

“Neither are you,” rasped the archeologist, “I know… you’re plans… too, Alti.” Her head started to swim against the lack of oxygen but she fought it. “Wouldn’t it be fun… to tell the Conqueror… about time travel?”

The shaman hissed then slammed the small body against the stone wall, the shackles clinging in protest. “If you tell her then I can guarantee that all that’ll be left is a green powder. You’ll never get home.”

“Right now,” whispered the gasping archeologist, “I don’t really… care.”

Alti gave a hard jerk so that the back of Janice’s head slammed against the wall. She then opened her hand.

Janice fell to the floor in a heap with a blood stain trailing down the wall from her cracked head. She barely held her body up right with her hands.

The shaman bent back down then with both hands she lifted the archeologist’s face to hers. She watched as one green eye focused then unfocused but she didn’t care. She leaned in and murmured, “You’re nothing, Janice… you always have been and always will be.” She revealed a hungry grin. “Did your father ever tell you what really happened to your mother?” At Janice’s silence Alti pressed her hands tighter against Janice’s soft cheeks. “Let me show you,” she hissed then laughed.

Janice inhaled sharply and straightened up as her mind was rushed by an intense vision. The vision plagued her of her mother, who was with her father on her last dig. She got into the broken down truck and drove from the dig into town for supplies. It was the last time Janice ever saw her mother. The vision sped up and showed Janice’s mother having car trouble, the truck broken down on the side of the road halfway to town where there was nobody. Then as her mom gave in and decided to go back to the dig site, another truck showed up.

Janice unexpectedly screamed out no in pure rage as the vision showed her mother being raped by her mother’s would be savior. Her mother begged for mercy for the man to stop, she even tried to fight him to no avail. Janice clawed at Alti’s wrists to try and get her to release her of the vision but it was futile. The vision then sped up and showed her mother being beaten to death by the same man until she was dead on the side of the road. As quickly as the vision struck her it ended when Alti pulled her hands away. Janice fell to the floor and tried to get up while yelling, “You fuckin’ bitch!”

The shaman laughed coldly and grabbed the archeologist by her hair. She jerked Janice’s head back then hotly whispered, “If you so much as breathe to the Conqueror about our little secret I’ll find your… friend, Melinda. Then I’ll bring only her heart back to you.” She threw Janice’s head then rose up swiftly. Alti ignored the movement of the weak woman on the floor as she glided to the door. She ordered the guard to open it and she left.

Janice slumped to the floor in an emotional heap. Her anger and mental anguish ate away at her as she cried for her mother. The vision Alti showed her now burned in her memory for all her life. She would never rid of those images of her mother’s last hours on Earth. She clawed at the stone floor as if to tear it apart but she could not. Janice suddenly dropped her head back and screamed out, “Noooo!”

Janice’s fury fueled her body with energy and she sat up quickly. She grabbed at the chains attached to her shackles and the floor. She pulled against them with both her hands and legs yet they simply gnawed at her ankles through her boots and skin, cutting through.

Janice’s rage cooled down as her anguish coated her again. She release the manacles and stopped pulling then simply remained slumped there with tears freely flowing. For all those years she’d cursed her mother for leaving her and her father she could not take back. When all this time her mother had been sexual assaulted then murdered by some nameless man in Greece. She now tasted the bitterness of revenge in her mouth as she wanted to quench it badly with something or somebody. She would win this against Alti and she would kill Alti with her bare hands as soon as she had the chance. Janice would not allow that insane shaman to shift into her future and attack Melinda Pappas when Alti had already blackened Janice so deeply.
Chapter 8 – Faith

Janice jumped with a startle when her body detected another presence. She could only open her one eye even though it’d been almost a day since the incident. She found a pair of cold blue eyes staring at her and reading her like an open book. She fisted her hands at her side but she didn’t bother climbing to her feet before this dark ruler.

The Conqueror greatly towered over the prisoner. “I see you’ve already had one visitor.”

Janice’s body involuntarily shivered at the frozen, husky voice of the ruler. “We were getting acquainted.” She gave her best smug expression despite her distorted features. “I guess you didn’t come down for a cup of tea with me?”

The ruler flashed a grin but her eyes didn’t reveal any amusement at the joke. “I avoid these retched dungeons as much as I can.”

“It’s your own handy work,” reminded the archeologist, “but I feel so honored.”

The Conqueror’s eyes finally did light up with amusement. “You have spirit, Janice Covington.” She stepped closer then knelt down to become level with the bruised, beaten, and cut woman. She stretched out her right hand; her fingertips tilted the blonde’s head to the right then to the left. “Now how does one come to look exactly like the rebel Gabrielle, hmmm?”

Janice huffed. “It’s a long fuckin’ ass story.” She was amazed that such a ruthless ruler had a gentle touch.

The Conqueror relinquished her hold and studied the woman’s features to memory. “I bet it is,” she whispered. “I hear you’ve met the rebel faction members… the followers of Gabrielle.”

The archeologist narrowed her eyes. “If you think I’ll tell you anything fuckin’ forget it.”

The Conqueror’s eyes lit up by the challenge thrown at her. “We will see, Janice Covington.” She tilted her head to the side and her blue eyes flashed with mirth. “So how is Queen Cyane?”

Janice said nothing but her features deceived her with all her hatred.

The ruler’s lips played with a feral grin. “She seems to weaken with each passing day, I’ve noticed. Her Nation is rotting away to nothing and I don’t even have to lift a finger.”

“At least Queen Cyane is a just ruler.”

The Conqueror laughed in response. “Do not be fooled, Janice. Simply because she is just does not make her an excellent ruler.”

“But it does make her a better one compared to you,” challenged the archeologist.

“Perhaps,” murmured the ruler. She then leaned in and quietly whispered, “It no longer concerns you though. Right now… you know some things that I wish to possess. Maybe we can trade.”

“What’s to trade?” questioned the archeologist.

The Conqueror brought out her best grin. “You give me the names of the faction followers and I’ll make your death swift.”

Janice’s eyes darkened three shades and she hotly whispered, “Go to fuckin’ hell, you sick son of a bitch.” She never saw it coming when the ruler’s swift hands leapt out. Janice’s neck suddenly tightened at her last breath and she could only gasp for air. She grabbed at her throat but it was useless as her lungs couldn’t fill with air any longer.

“Tell me the names and I’ll release it.” The Conqueror watched as the small woman’s head dropped back, her eyes unfocused on the ceiling above. “You have twenty heartbeats left before you die.”

“Thank… god then,” rasped Janice. Her eyes swam in the lights darkened around her. She lost control of her body and she slumped against the wall.

The Conqueror saw the maroon blood trail down Janice’s upper lip. Then Janice collapsed completely and the Conqueror’s hands quickly shot out to release the pinch. She growled as the small prisoner remained unconscious on the cold floor. She sprung up to her full height and yelled for the guard.

Janice awoke some time later by a splash of hot water hitting her upper body. She screamed against the heat of the water but she shook it off and focused on what was happening to her. Her good eye finally open and she realized why her wrists hurt so bad as she was being hung from the rafters above her. Her boots just skimmed the stone floor that had a thin coating of blood from a previous prisoner.

Janice knew she was on the second level of the dungeon since there were other prisoners hanging around her and across from her. She became frantic and tried to wriggle her wrists free from the rope high above. The restraining rope wouldn’t give and merely chewed into her wrists for her resistance.

“Stop struggling,” coldly ordered the ruler’s voice from by the doorway. She strolled down to the archeologist with a familiar dagger in her right hand as she played with it in her nails. “This will go faster if you cooperate.”

The archeologist was breathing heavily and clenching her fists. She never felt so helpless and desperate in her life but she would not give into this ruthless woman.

“Are you familiar with the torture known as Língchí?” casually inquired the Conqueror. She stood in front of her enemy. “Well, it’s one of my favorite methods of torture that I discovered in Chin.” She showed her teeth to Janice in a hungry grin. “The word Língchí translates to death by a thousand cuts.” She lifted the dagger in salute.

Janice growled at what was coming towards her. She wrapped her fingers around the wrap that her hands were lashed to. She hysterically started moving and managed to swing her body using the rope.

The Conqueror jumped aside in surprise by the cleverness of the woman’s attempt. She laughed in excitement at such spirit in her prisoner. “Guard, get the weights!” she snapped.

Janice’s ankles were shackled but she had some range of motion so she tried her best to take a kick at the heartless ruler.

Again the Conqueror jumped back and laughed at the attempted assault. When she saw two guards returned with lead weights that had eyes at the top and ropes tied through the eyes, she ordered them to get Janice under control.

The archeologist fought against her attackers but she had little strength left. She yelled and screamed yet the ruler, herself, lashed the lead weights to each of her ankles.

The guards stepped back when it was done.

The Conqueror was content at how Janice could no longer struggle. “Now….” She removed Janice’s dagger from her side and gave it a spin between her fingers. “For every five cuts I make, you have a chance to tell me what I want to know.” She brought the dagger up against the soft stomach in front of her and she let the tip travel up and down Janice’s stomach. “And where should I begin? Any requests?”

Janice gritted her teeth and tried one last attempt to struggle but it was hopeless.

“No?” murmured the Conqueror. “Well… how about here?” She pressed the blade into Janice’s skin just under her right rib.

Janice hissed hotly at the sting.

The Conqueror release the pressure then casually let the tip scrape across Janice’s right side as she encircled her prisoner. She came to Janice’s back side and suddenly she pushed the blade in deeper again.

Janice opened her mouth but contained her scream. Her head slumped forward some and she saw the cut on her stomach, the blood trickling down towards her waistband. She bit her lower lip and her eyes slammed shut when the searing sting flashed down across her upper back.

“You see, Janice,” started the ruler’s chilled voice, “it isn’t that you just bleed to death from this torture.” She made a neat design with the blade’s tip but she didn’t press it in… yet. “It’s actually the fact that your wounds become infected.” She came to Janice’s left side now and pushed the dagger’s side into Janice’s.

Janice hissed and gave a small cry of pain.

“Then you become sick,” continued the ruler. She now stood in font of her prisoner. “Maggots will eat away at your flesh.” She brought the dagger near the first cut she made at Janice’s stomach. “These wounds won’t heal when you’re sleeping in dirt with no food… no medical attention.” She suddenly sliced the knife across her prisoner’s stomach again so that the two cuts made an ‘X’ design. “Tell me, Janice… who are they?”

The archeologist opened her pain filled, unswollen eye and her angry voice whispered, “Fuck you.”

The Conqueror amusingly chuckled and replied, “That could be arranged but I don’t lay with faction scum.”

“Too much on your own level?” coldly shot back Janice.

The ruler had a wiry grin and she quickly cut the dagger across Janice’s chest, just over her right breast. “You faction fools are all alike.” She began circling her prey again. “Rid the world of the Conqueror and there will be peace.” She slashed the dagger across Janice’s back on a diagonal. “You rebels do not realize how many power hungry murders I hold at bay from taking control.”

“And you are so merciless,” sarcastically breathed the prisoner.

The Conqueror was slicing Janice’s upper left thigh but on the side. “I rule with fear… I am feared and I am fear.”

Janice was gritting her teeth from all the stinging over her body. Her skin could feel the slow trickle of warm blood. “You are a fuckin’ bitch with no legacy and no future.”

The ruler stopped in front of her prisoner and wildly grinned. “Were you talking about me… or you?” She suddenly lashed out with the dagger making a long cut completely across Janice’s lower abdomen.

Janice instantly screamed against the pain. She hung her head down, her good eye closed, and she tried to pull her mind from her pained body. The Conqueror’s voice would fade in and out as much as the stinging cuts over her body. She then sensed the weights released from her ankles some time later. Then her body was dropped roughly to the dirty floor and she tried to struggle as she was dragged back to her cell on the first floor. She was finally thrown into her cell and a soldier shackled her back to the floor, freed her hands of the rope but not without putting manacles on them too.

Finally Janice was left alone in her cell. She remained on her side as her breathing was heavy, her eyes closed. Her stomach was ravishing her insides for food, which gave her a pounding headache. Her blood oozed from her wounds and trickled into the cracks of the stone floor. She didn’t care anymore. All she could think about was the people she loved so dearly that seemed so far from her. She began to realize that she’d failed each of those people she loved as she laid here slowly dying physically and mentally.

At some unknown point, Janice slipped into her dreams that only continued the Conqueror’s torture. It wasn’t until the prison door opened and slammed that she stirred awake some. She opened her good eye while her other eye slightly broke open but her view was fuzzy in that eye. She took in the black boots in her view but she didn’t bother to look up at her visitor.

“Guards, prepare her so she can hang from her ankles,” commanded the cold voice of the Conqueror. “We still have unfinished business, Janice Covington.”

The guards rushed into the cell and one unlocked her chains at her ankles then he grabbed her manacles at her ankles. The second sentry grabbed her wrist manacles then together the guards lifted the small body up from the floor.

The Conqueror watched with a feral smile as the prisoner was carried away. She peered down at the ground and assessed the amount of blood from the woman’s body left on the floor. It’d been two days since she’d begun the Língchí torture but Janice’s body seemed to handle the first fifty cuts fairly well. She would never admit to admiring the woman’s strength to hold out but she had ever intent of breaking Janice Covington.

Janice’s head spun as the blood rushed to her head while she hung upside down now. She would have been sick if there was anything left in her stomach besides acids. When the Conqueror stepped in front of her, images of throwing her shackles around the ruler’s throat and choking her came to her. Yet Janice couldn’t move her weak arms that were raw and red from several long dagger cuts.

“Tell me, Janice what I want to know,” ordered the ruler. She produced the dagger from her side. When there was absolutely no response, she began her slow cutting dance around her prey. She reopened some old cuts and made fresh ones.

Janice never screamed, never spoke, and her mind was removed from her body. She could feel her body in pain but she was numb to it all. If she transcended into the afterlife now, then it would be so beautiful compared to this and her heart actually welcomed the idea.

The Conqueror grew angry when she completed her next step of the Língchí torture that gave her nothing. She knew exactly what’d happened to Janice having experienced it herself in the past. She would have to jar the archeologist back into reality and she had the perfect means to do just that.

The prisoner was brought down from her hanging position then hauled back up to the first level. She was dropped in the cell, chained, and left alone with nothing. Janice’s head swam as she faded in and out of the world. Then she heard a lot of movement that awoke her from her nightmares. She was able to open both her eyes despite her left eye was barely focusing and things were cloudy. Janice good eye centered on a familiar face sitting across from her but then something occurred to her.

Janice’s body had a brief charge of energy and she sat up. Her features were full of fear and terror as she stared at the marred face of Rhodes. “Holy… shit,” she gasped and backed against the wall.

“Welcome back,” offered the Conqueror, who stood off the side so that Janice could have a clear view of the dead advisor. “I see you haven’t lost all your senses.”

Janice was digging her nails into the floor and she turned her head away from Rhodes. “What did you fuckin’ do to him?”

“I killed him,” mildly answered the ruler. “But… after I punished him.” She knelt down beside the dead body and pointed at his mouth that hung open. “I first cut his tongue out… for all his lies.” She smiled at Janice as her hand pointing finger lifted to his eyes. “Then I cut out his eyes for seeing things he should have never saw in the rebels.” Then she indicated the side of Rhode’s head. “Last, I cut his ears off for listening to the rebels’ cause.”

The Conqueror stood up and now walked over to Janice. She touched the small woman’s furthest cheek and forced her to look at her and Rhodes behind her. “I knew for many moons that he was a traitor. I let him live and I played with his deceit because he didn’t realize my spies were watching his every move.” She leaned in closer then whispered, “I know everything that goes on in my realm.”

The ruler removed her lingering touch then leaned back again. “I know where Gabrielle is now, Janice.”

The archeologist’s eyes focused on the ruler. “No,” she breathed in disbelief.

“She’s with the weak Amazon Nation.” The Conqueror softly laughed at Janice’s doubting features. “I’ve already ordered two legions of Spartan hoplites to be mobilized. They wait for three orders from me. Do you know what those orders are, Janice?”

The prisoner swallowed because she knew but she dared not say it aloud.

“First, to wipe the Amazon Nation off this Earth. Second, bring me the head of Queen Cyane. Then third….” The Conqueror hungrily whispered, “Bring me the rebel leader Gabrielle.”

Janice gritted her teeth and she shook her head. “No… you bitch.”

“You see, Janice I will win this.” The ruler shrugged and plainly stated, “If I cannot cut the snake’s body from its head then I will cut the head from its body.”

“You can’t slaughter those people!” hotly yelled the prisoner.

“I’m not, I am punishing traitors of the realm. The Amazons have aided the rebel leader. They will pay.” The Conqueror suddenly stood up and her dark cape flowed down behind her. “However I am willing to give you one last chance, Janice.” When angry eyes met her steel blues, she explained her offer. “You have a choice, you can either tell me who the faction followers are and I will order my legions to demobilize or you cannot and I will give my final orders.” She smiled at the prisoner and amusingly summarized, “This is your last, great deed, Janice before you die.” She stepped away until she was standing next to Rhode’s dead corpse. “I’ll leave you to discuss it with your… friend here.” She peered down at the bloody, mutilated body. “I think though your words will fall on dead ears.” She chuckled and walked towards the open door.

“Aren’t you even the least bit concerned about where I came from?” challenged Janice.

The ruler paused in the doorway and turned back to the prisoner. “Honestly, no.” She started to pull away again.

“What if I tell you it has something to do with Alti?”

The Conqueror hesitated again but she leered at the archeologist. “Alti is a walking deceit but she’s valuable. I know her movements better than she does.”

“Not in this case,” shot back Janice, “She’s played you well this time.”

The Conqueror turned her head to Janice finally. “Perhaps after you’ve made your decision about the fate of the rebels then we’ll discuss the terms for your information on Alti.” Then with that she swiftly vanished from the cell with the door slamming shut.

Janice’s jaw clenched and unclenched as she was left with Rhode’s corpse. She turned her head away but he kept staring at her with his empty eye sockets. She turned her body some, lifted her knees, and buried her face into her knees. Rhodes kept staring at Janice though and his decaying corpse started to permeate in the cell after so many hours.

The archeologist wanted to cry but she had no tears left. Her emotions so raw and the only thing solid was her anger. Somehow she managed to fall asleep again but her nightmares were of Rhodes and his defaced corpse chasing her and tempting her.

The smell of the rotting body finally got to Janice and she ended up being sick in one of the corners of the cell. Her throat burned from the heavy acids of her stomach but she spit the last of it out. She then stumbled back and fell down then leaned against the wall. She tried to ignore the dead body but it was engrained in her head.

Janice slumped to the floor, her back to Rhode’s corpse, and she curled up into a ball. She shifted into her nightmares for a long time and she never heard the guard come in to remove the corpse. The guard too tired of smelling the stench out in the prison hall as well as the circulating flies that ravished the body.

Janice awoke but she could not move as her body was too weak. She was weak from not eating and the wounds. Her body ached from the hard floor. Her skin stung all over from the aggravated cuts that were turning worse. The Conqueror had even been right about the maggots as two of them she found in the deep, red cut on her right thigh. She frantically clawed them out and got them out of her wound before they did anymore eating of her dead flesh around the wound. She then was alarmed when the guard unlocked the door from a barking command. She clenched her hands at her sides as the dark ruler strolled casually into the cell. Janice knew that the Conqueror wanted her answer to her choice. She knew as much as the Conqueror who Janice would choose but Janice wasn’t sure if she could dare breathe it out. She would die by this heartless monster but her faith would not be broken by this raging hatred.

The Conqueror stepped through the door, her eyes flashing in feral power. Her cape circled her body in protection and her bronze armor shined her deadly beauty. The Conqueror twisted her head to the door and she snapped, “Go wait down the hall until I call for you.”

Janice tried to sit up and managed to just as the dark ruler knelt down in front of her. Her good eye and hazy eye centered on the beautiful features of the dark ruler then she absorbed the soft blue eyes. Her heart stopped a beat at seeing such tenderness and she knew she must be crossing over with Melinda’s beauty before her. She began to swoon and fall to her left yet strong hands captured her shoulders and held her up right.

“Janice,” called a sweet voice. “Come on, Janice… don’t do this to me… not now, please.”

The archeologist’s mind swam and she lifted her head as the dim light in the darkness filtered to her. She followed the light as fast as she could and slowly her eyes reopened to see the concerned features of the Conqueror.

“Come on, Janice,” softly urged the Conqueror’s soothing voice. “You’re safe… everything is okay now.”

Janice moaned when a tender hand touched her bruised cheek. She leaned into the touch when it felt so natural to her body. “Whaaat…”

“Janice, it’s me.”

The archeologist swallowed against her sandy throat as her ears detected the Conqueror’s beautiful southern accent. The accent registered into her mind hastily and she lifted her head from the gentle touch. She was startled again and tried to back away from the Conqueror.

“No… no, it’s okay.” The Conqueror moved closer but was cautious with the scared woman. “It’s me, Janice… It’s Mel.”

“No,” growled Janice and she moved away. “You’re playing with me… Alti told you about her.” She grabbed at the hand on her cheek and tried to crush it with no avail.

“No, Janice it’s really me.” The Conqueror leaned in and murmured, “Would the Conqueror know your daddy is Doctor Harry Covington or that you have a disgusting habit with cigars?”

Janice still had a frightened expression but it faintly softened. “It’s impossible… unless I’m dead.”

The Conqueror swallowed the lump in her throat then murmured, “No but you… were dying,” she whimpered with so many emotions behind her words. “You’re safe now though.”

“Mel?” gasped Janice, who started crying suddenly.

“Ooo god.” Melinda Pappas, dressed as the ruthless Conqueror, reached for her friend and pulled her close to her body. “I’m so sorry, Janice.”

The archeologist couldn’t understand what’d happened but she didn’t care in this instant. She buried her broken body into the familiar form of Melinda Pappas. She sobbed loudly and clenched onto the strong body.

Melinda held onto the fragile archeologist and started to rock their bodies in a rhythmic harmony. She could tell it was helping to soothe the shaking woman’s senses as Janice came over her shock and fright. Melinda slightly drew away and wiped the tears away from the red, cut cheeks. “I promise you’re safe, Janice.”

Janice hands were tangled in the wire armor that wrapped around the black leathers that Melinda wore. “Mel, it’s really you?”

Melinda subconsciously licked her lips then slowly nodded. “It’s really me, Janice.” She brushed back blond bangs on Janice’s forehead and she tilted her head as she realized something. “And what in God’s name did you do to your hair, Janice Covington?”

Janice now laughed in pure relief and tears streamed from her eyes once more. “It’s really you, Mel.”

Melinda’s features were soft and eyes full of worry. “It’s me,” she confirmed once and for all.

“How… what… I don’t understand.”

“I know,” assured the translator. “It’s a long story but we ain’t gonna discuss it here or now.” She swallowed against that hard lump in her throat that meant her emotions were on the surface. “We’ll talk about it later, I promise. Right now we need to take care of ya.”

The archeologist shook her head because she had no idea what to do or say at this point. She could barely grasp the concept of being tortured by the Conqueror earlier and now resting in Melinda’s arms, who was dressed as the ruler.

“I’ll get ya out of here, okay? We’ll get your wounds taken care of then get ya fed.”

Janice slowly nodded; she wasn’t sure what to say.

The southerner carefully released her friend and placed her back on the floor. She then stood up.

The archeologist watched in awe as her best friend seemed to do some mental shift when her eyes closed then opened again. She slightly tensed thinking that Melinda wasn’t really her and that it was her mind playing games.

Melinda went to the door and pounded on it roughly while calling, “Guard!” Her southern draw was completely gone.

The sentry scuffled down the hallway and opened the door. When the ruler didn’t step out right away he had curious features.

“I want the prisoner taken to my slaves,” coldly ordered the Conqueror. “See that you tell them to bathe her and feed her. Then tell my healer to take care of the wounds.”

The stunned guard blinked at the ruler like she was Medusa.

The Conqueror snarled, jumped forward, and brought her hand around the man’s neck. “Do we have a hearing probably?” She easily started lifting the guard from the ground.

“N-n-no, my liege!”

The dark ruler threw the man through the door way and pleasingly watch him hit the floor. “Then carry out my orders, now!” She then stepped out of the open cell, bent down in front of him, and softly threatened, “If she is harmed anymore then I’ll hold you responsible for it. Are we communicating clearly?”

“Y-y-yes, my liege… she’ll be taken care of right away.”

“She better be,” snapped the furious ruler, who stood up finally. She stole one last look at the prisoner in the cell.

Janice was holding her body up with her hands and she saw the comfort and hidden love in those familiar, blue eyes. She was assured again, which made her relax some.

The Conqueror suddenly turned and rushed down the hallway at a fast pace.

The guard climbed to his feet and was rubbing his aching back for a few heartbeats. He grunted at the prisoner and mildly joked, “Don’t go anywhere.” He slammed the heavy door shut then marched off to find another guard to help him.

Janice lowered her head against the wall and her thoughts were reeling faster than light. She couldn’t comprehend how it was possible for Melinda Pappas to be here in this time too let alone role playing the Conqueror. She was bulked down by so many questions that wouldn’t be answered until much later.

The archeologist softly moaned and touched her forehead that started to pound with a headache. She had to settle down or else she would simply go insane. There was too much to grasp and understand right now but first thing was first and that was getting cleaned up, thank god.

The sentry returned with another one and the pair did what they knew best. They freed Janice from the chains that attached to the floor then they merely lifted her by her arm and leg manacles. With easy, the frustrated sentries carried the dangling woman like meat on a skewer and took her through the dungeon and into the fortress.

Janice’s vision swirled and spun in circles as everything passed her so quickly. She heard the boots scuffing on the floor, the ceiling passing over head, and the grunts of the guards. Then she was lowered onto a cool but soft stone floor and the guards roughly grabbed her shackles.

“The Conqueror wants her cleaned up… the healer will be over too,” barked a guard to somebody. He stood up while throwing the manacles over his leather padded shoulders. “Feed her too.” He stepped away but paused to add, “I’ll post two guards by the doors incase you have a problem with her.” His brown eyes flickered to the beat up, cut up, and weaken prisoner then he chuckled while saying, “I doubt you will though.” With that, he signaled his buddy to leave with him.

Janice was completely in a daze as two curious, female faces hovered above her and they were saying something. She couldn’t understand them at all except for a few broken words that filtered through. She quietly groaned and closed her eyes. Then soft, small hands were under her shoulders and back thighs. Her body again was floating in the air but then soothing, warm water gradually embraced her. The beautiful scent of laurel and lilac filled her very senses.

The prisoner tried to open her eyes when there were strong arms around her waist and a silky body pressing into her back, holding her up carefully. She discovered the striking features of a young, tan face, who was smiling at her. The silky lips that the young woman possessed slowly moved but the words that escaped didn’t register to Janice’s jumbled mind.

Instead, the archeologist moaned at the sensual feelings invading her body that were so opposite of her earlier days. She relished it and it soothed her ravishing hatred that was very much a monster in her. She leaned her head back until there was a broad shoulder behind her that let her rest there. She closed her aching left eye and her good eye so that her body could simply soak in the beautiful tenderness all around her.

“Theresa, look?” murmured the slave standing in front of Janice, who held a soft sponge in her right hand.

Theresa, who was behind Janice and holding Janice upright, shifted her head and gazed down at the indicted water. Her eyes widened in horror at how the soapy water was tinted red by blood. “We must hasten to clean her, Nakia. The Conqueror will not be pleased if she dies here in our care.”

The young slave quickly understood and tried to clean Janice as fast as she could but it was hard. She’d never seen so many cuts in her life on one’s body yet her administrations were thought out and tender.

“Theresa, can you untie her top?”

“No, you will have to get it. She will fall if I release her.”

Nakia lowered the sponge into the pool of warm, fragrant water. She came to the right side of the pair and worked between the prisoner and Theresa. She managed to undone the tie in the back. Next she went ahead and removed the leather skirt.

“Don’t’ forget her boots,” offered Theresa.

Nakia had taken several heartbeats to clean the leathers in the water. She tossed them onto the ledge nearby then she finally reached underwater to get the boots. She was able to unlace them each and one by one, she pulled them off of the prisoner’s feet. Finally with the clothes out of the water and on the ledge, Nakia cleaned the prisoner’s body one last time. She fully enjoyed the beautiful body this small prisoner had even though the cuts, deep gashes, and bruises disfigured her greatly.

“Is she clean, Nakia?”

“We need to do her hair,” reminded the smaller slave.

Theresa nodded and did her best to shift around until the prisoner was facing her, leaning her small frame against her larger body. “I’ll lower her down.” Very carefully and gradually, Theresa lowered Janice deeper until the back of her head just touched the water.

Nakia was now able to work her soapy hands carefully through the stranger’s golden hair. When she got to the back of the woman’s head, she felt the hair matted and small clumps in her hands. She was shocked to find dried pieces of blood. She tended to the bloody hair and softly worked the dried blood out of the blond locks. Finally she finished up by washing out the soap and saying, “We’re finished, Theresa.”

The tall slave took her cue and cautiously lifted the moaning prisoner back up. “Go to the steps first.”

Nakia easily pushed through the pool of water and turned after going up a few steps. When Theresa was close enough with the stranger, she helped lift her up into the air. She and Theresa carried the semi-conscious prisoner through the bathing room to the other left side where they’d already prepared a long bench with a towel spread out on it. They lowered her on the bench but adjusted her until her head rested on the two towels stacked up as a makeshift pillow.

Theresa then hurried off to get some towels for drying the stranger’s body down.

Nakia bent over the prisoner and studied the woman. She couldn’t imagine what this prisoner had gone through in the dungeons and she also didn’t understand why the Conqueror would save anyone from the dungeons. She lifted her head when Theresa handed her a towel.

Together the pair toweled the stranger’s raw skin but as they went their towels grew redder from the bleeding. The wounds had been reopened by the warm bath.

“Nakia, get our robes before the healer arrives. I’ll dry her hair.”

The small, dark slave didn’t argue. She rushed off and left Theresa to finish up. When she returned, she already had her black robe on and was holding out Theresa’s to her.

Theresa slipped hers on just as the healer entered the guarded bathing room.

The healer stopped just after entering the bathing room. He spotted what he suspected was his patient and he hurried over to the slaves with the slim form on the bench. He first hefted his bag of medical supplies then stepped up and fear waved over his features at seeing the woman’s body on the bench. “By the gods… what’s happened?”

Nakia’s eyes flickered over to Theresa.

Theresa sighed and folded her arms over her chest. “She’s from the dungeons.”

The healer was scanning over the endless injuries but he waited a beat and studied Theresa as if to gauge her honesty. He believed her though because this stranger certainly displayed many forms of torture. He wondered how many wounds she had mentally from the tortures she suffered.

The healer quietly worked to stop the random bleeding from the freshly open wounds. He occasionally asked the slaves to help him but he mostly did everything. He used jewelweed balsam on her cuts and there were a few he actually wrapped because they were so deep. He then administered arnica over the bruises in hopes it’d help drive the blood out and settle it. The second to last thing he dealt with was her left swollen eye that was discharging a white puss and most likely was obscuring her vision. He only prayed he was here soon enough so that her vision wouldn’t be permanently damaged. He removed a white lotion from his supplies then carefully rubbed it in over her eyelid then completely around her eye.

“She has a wound on the back of her head too,” mentioned Nakia.

The healer sighed at this information but he peered up at Theresa. “Can you lift her up while I check?” When the slave did that, he inspected the back of her head and his fingers sensed the wound. From his more intense inspection, the stranger moaned and slightly stirred. He decided it was best to add some balsam to her head wound too so that it’d heal properly. He was relieved to find out that her skull wasn’t cracked amazingly, the blood merely from the scalp being broken open.

The healer ordered the slave to lower her back down then he hunted through his medical supplies for something. He couldn’t find what he wanted so he’d have to get it later and deliver it.

“Will she live?” murmured Nakia.

The healer was closing his bag up. “Surprisingly… yes.” He studied the nude but mangled body of the prisoner. He’d seen this torture before done by the Conqueror. In past times, he was called in to confirm a prisoner’s death but this was the first time he was called in to confirm a prisoner’s life. He could not imagine what’d caused the Conqueror to change her mind. “She’ll need bed rest.”

Nakia folded her arms over her chest. “What of her wounds? Should we care for them?”

“I will take care of them,” answered the healer. He stopped staring at the small woman and looked between the slaves. “One of you should get her more awake and keep her awake for a full day. She may have a concussion.”

Theresa eyed the smaller slave.

Nakia understood and offered a smile to the healer. “I’ll take care of her.”

The healer faintly nodded then lifted his medical supplies off the bench. “Well… hopefully her sanity is still alive.” With that, he headed off and would make a direct report to the Conqueror as she would expect of him.

“Let’s get her to a room,” suggested Theresa.

“Should I try to wake her?”

The tall slave carefully considered this then nodded. “You wake her, I’ll find a room for her.” She hurried off to the main door that the healer just left through.

Nakia first sought out a robe and came back with it. She let it hang from her left hand while she tried to stir the small woman. “You must wake up.” She received a quiet groan.

Janice transcended from her half waken, half sleeping state. She’d felt all the caresses for the past half an hour or so but her skin felt chilled again. She tried to open her eyes. She was greeted by a dark, smiling face above her.

“Sit up, come on.” Nakia tried to get the stranger to lift up, her small hands behind the prisoner’s back. “That’s it.”

The archeologist let out a whimper when her muscles protested against the work of sitting up.

“Here.” Nakia lifted the stranger’s right arm and started the long process of getting the robe on her.

Janice truly tried to help by lifting her limbs yet it was wearing. Her head slumped forward some, her eyes half closed. However when hand patted her right cheek to stir her, she lifted her head.

“You cannot sleep. You must be awake.” Nakia closed the robe around the small frame and tied the sash. She cupped her hands under the stranger’s face and held her head up. She read the shallowness in both sets of eyes, which made her heart seize for a beat. “I am Nakia. What is your name?”

Janice slightly shook her head and for a long second, her eyes closed then opened slowly again. “Jan… Janice,” she mumbled.

Nakia was surprised to get any response yet she smiled in hope. Her head straightened up sharply when Theresa arrived again. “Theresa, she cannot walk.”

The taller slave didn’t like this because otherwise the guards would haul the prisoner down to the room. She didn’t like that idea since it could be held over her and Nakia’s heads. She also felt for this prisoner. “If you get her right side, I’ll get her left.”

Nakia agreed and bent her knees. “Janice, put your arm around my neck and your left arm around Theresa’s waist.”

The archeologist needed an extra second to register the request. She slipped her right around across Nakia’s shoulders then managed her arm across the taller woman’s waist.

“On the count of three,” offered Theresa. “One… two… three.” All at once, they managed to get Janice somewhat on her feet.

Janice’s body felt light like she was floating but her feet still touched the floor. She was helped through the beautiful, damp bathing room and taken to double doors.

Theresa knocked on it and a guard opened it for them.

The guards straightened up as the prisoner was helped out of the room. They figured they better follow so they could keep an eye on the prisoner but they knew she wouldn’t go anywhere. Still, they didn’t want to suffer under the Conqueror’s wrath.

The slaves and Janice made it down the hall a ways then Theresa opened the chamber door. She and Nakia stopped in front of the bed. “Nakia, I’ll help her up.”

Nakia slipped Janice’s arm from her shoulders and positioned Janice’s hand on the bed instead.

Janice gathered what was next so she tried to help by hauling her frail body into the bed.

“Nakia, you stay and make sure she doesn’t sleep. I’ll get some food.” With that, Theresa slipped out of the chambers and closed the door behind her.

Nakia climbed into the bed too but faced the stranger. She helped Janice get under the covers so that she’d be warm but she didn’t let Janice lay down. Instead she took the three large pillows and positioned them so that Janice sat upright in bed. “You must remain awake, Janice.” She patted the woman’s slashed cheeks.

“I’m trying,” murmured the prisoner. She rested her head against the headboard of the bed. “What’s your name?”

The young slave smiled and sat cross legged next to the interesting woman. “My name is Nakia.”

Janice offered her own smile but her lips ached from the cuts and dryness. “That’s… Egyptian… right?”

Nakia was stunned, her smile brighter now. “I am from Egypt, yes. I was given to the Conqueror by Queen Cleopatra.”

The archeologist huffed and tried to study the dark features of Nakia. “Do you miss home?”

“I was young when I was given to the Conqueror. I only have unpleasant memories of home.”

“How old?” murmured Janice.

“I was sixteen winters old,” answered Nakia, “but I’ll be twenty-one winters soon.” She now dared to ask her own question. “You said your name is Janice but are you not Gabrielle?”

Janice almost wanted to laugh but she couldn’t quite. “No… I’m pretty sure I’m still just Janice.”

Nakia chuckled at this response but she’d heard the rumors about the rebel leader and she’d even been so courageous to see the rebel when she spoke against the Conqueror so long ago. “You are brave, Janice and also lucky.”

Janice didn’t agree at all. She shook her head and stared down at her cut up hands.

The slave sensed her distraught so she covered the cut hands with her dark hands. “You are,” she insisted, “they say nobody survives the Conqueror but you have.”

The archeologist swallowed because she knew the truth about why she survived. There was only one reason why she survived when in fact she’d really failed.

“You and Gabrielle,” thought aloud Nakia. “You two must have a trick.” She received a faint grin from the stranger, which warmed her too. “Theresa will be back soon with food.”

“I think I’m… thirsty,” admitted the archeologist. She couldn’t recall the last time she drank anything. Her body was suffering from dehydration by now and she would need the fluids soon.

“Theresa will bring some water too,” promised the slave. Just as she finished speaking, Theresa returned with a tray of food.

Theresa deposited the tray between Janice and Nakia. “Take care of her, Nakia. I will… I will see to the Conqueror.”

Nakia gave a sympathetic expression and called to Theresa by the door. “Thank you.”

Theresa gave a minor smile then vanished once again.

Nakia continued her tending of the prisoner by helping her eat the food. The food itself was rather light such as a warm soup, a little bit of soft bread, and then a couple handfuls of grapes. Janice was relieved to have some soft food as her jaw was just as sore as everything else. She then sipped on a mug of warm tea that had an odd herb in it. She didn’t question it as it maybe something to help her.

Janice held the warm mug between her aching hands, her head against the headboard again.

Nakia was placing the empty tray on the table near the door. As she came back, the stranger spoke to her.

“Nakia, tell me about Egypt. I haven’t been there… yet.”

The slave got onto the bed again and returned to her same position. “If you promise to stay awake….?”

“I will,” murmured the worn archeologist.

Nakia slowly nodded while brushing back a long strand of her midnight hair. She began relaying her tales of her homeland and particularly about the famous Queen Cleopatra, who she served for some time. She made sure to thoughtfully watch for any signs of Janice falling asleep but Janice never slipped away.

Here and there Janice would ask questions but only so many than she normally would do. Her mind was mushy and she doubted her memory would recall half this conversation with Nakia. Still though the conversation kept her awake and her mind worked on something other than her current situation.

Janice stole a quick look out of the window nearby and estimated it must be somewhere near seven o’clock as the sun’s setting rays poured into the room. She wished she could see the sunset since she hadn’t seen the sun in so long while in the dungeon. She promised herself that as soon as she was able to move around that she would do just that.

Nakia stopped talking when a sentry opened the door. She straightened up when the powerful, dark Conqueror stepped in with a cold expression. “My liege,” she respectfully greeted and bowed her head.

The Conqueror absorbed the scene of her slave sitting on the bed with the prisoner. “Theresa reported you and her have tended to the… prisoner.”

Janice swallowed and silently watched and listened.

“Yes, my liege.” Nakia’s head was bowed, her dark tresses fallen around her face. “She has eaten too.”

The ruler quickly crossed the distance from the doorway after signaling the sentries to close the door. She stretched out her right hand and brought her fingertips under Nakia’s chin. When fearful brown eyes met hers, she narrowed her crystal blue eyes. “See that you continue with such care until the prisoner is well.”

“Of course, my liege.”

“Good.” The Conqueror relinquished her touch and ordered, “Now see to my room with Theresa until a guard finds you.”

Nakia quickly compiled and slipped out of the bed. She went to the door but also picked up the empty tray from earlier. She silently left the Conqueror and prisoner alone but her prayers were sent out to Janice.

The Conqueror’s body released some unknown hold when the chamber door closed. “How do ya feel, Janice?”

Janice settled her strangling clench of her mug and tried to relax when she saw that eerie shift in the woman before her. “A little better.”

Melinda’s features were no long hard like that of a ruler but incredibly soft and worried. “The healer said he cleaned your wounds. He will check regularly on ya.”

Janice mutely nodded, her gaze lowered to her mug.

Melinda stepped closer then she gently brought her hand against Janice’s cheek.

The archeologist flinched and involuntarily moved her head away.

Melinda’s stomach turned at the reaction that her touch invoked. She should have expected much since she not only looked just as her descendant but was role playing the ruler that was just torturing Janice. “Janice, I am sorry this’s happened.”

Janice detected the emotional ache in the southerner’s words. She closed her eyes for a second but lifted her head and captured Melinda’s gaze. “I am too.” Her eyes moistened yet she refused to cry anymore so she looked away quickly. “How did you get here, Mel? How… long now?”

The translator bit her lower lip. “I know you’re confused, Janice and I want to tell ya everything but not right now. You’ve been through too much and need to rest.”

The archeologist had no energy or words to argue, she simply nodded.

Melinda exhaled sadly at the lack of light and character in her friend; she knew it would take time. “The healer said ya may have a concussion.”

Janice slowly nodded then murmured, “I’ll stay awake.”

“I’ll come back later and check on ya,” stated the worried southerner.

The archeologist shook her head, still staring in her mug. “Don’t worry, Mel.”

“It ain’t an offer, Janice Covington.” Melinda titled her head to get a better view of the bowing head of her friend. “I’m worried.”

“I know,” muttered the archeologist. She swallowed then finally lifted her head. “This is… really hard for me.” She signaled weakly with her left hand at Melinda’s body. “You’re even dressed just like… like her.”

Melinda’s jaw clenched then unclenched against her emotional thoughts. She now realized that Janice was making a mental association of her to the Conqueror, especially with this particular attire. She gave herself a mental note to root through the ruler’s attire to find something different. At least it’d give her a different light in front of the shaken archeologist. “I know, Janice… give it some time.”

All Janice could do was nod her answer.

Melinda wanted to touch her friend, to reassure her physically like she’d done in the cell however the earlier shock had worn off the archeologist. Now the ramification of the sinister ruler’s torture was seeping deeply into Janice’s conscious and heart. Melinda wasn’t sure what else to say or do so she knew she could not recoil from Janice no matter how hard this was for her too. “I’ll be back later.”

Janice’s head rose as her friend moved swiftly away and glided to the door. She saw how Melinda hesitated at the door and there were words on Janice’s lips that she could not speak out but her heart wanted her to do it. All of her being refused to open her cleaned wounds and so she built up a protection for them.

Melinda cast one last look at her friend then she silently left the room.

Janice remained still in the bed, her head slumped, and her eyes closed. Her frame suddenly shook with silent sobs that stung her eyes but she contained her burning tears with tight eyelids. The one person she needed more than anybody else now reminded her of the person she most hated. Why her?

Continued in Chapter 9

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