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Never Underestimate The Powers of a Slayer

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This story is No. 11 in the series "Buffy and Xena Crossovers". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: #11. Followup to "Five by Five -- by Five." Faith has Willow send her back to ancient Greece so she can find and kill Alti. While there, Faith meets Xena's second most dangerous and evil enemy.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Xena-Hercules > Faith-CentereddaviderlFR13112,069021,1877 Aug 037 Aug 03Yes
{I do not own the rights to any of the characters in this story. No copyright infringement is intended. These stories are for entertainment purposes only.}

Never Underestimate The Powers of a Slayer


{{{- PREVIOUSLY –

From “Five by Five” as Alti, who has taken over Faith’s body, tries to kill Xena --

"Willow!" Buffy yelled. "Do something! NOW!"

Willow began chanting the words of a spell, trying to get it finished before Xena was killed.

Then suddenly, the blur that was Faith/Alti slowed and she became visible.

"I can stop Alti's supernatural powers," Willow managed to say, straining to keep Alti's energy contained. "But not for long."

"That's good enough. It'll give Xena a chance to fight back." Gabrielle said.

"I don't know." Willow said. "Even without her magic, Alti can still tap into the full resources of a Slayer, something even Buffy can't do!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

From “Five by Five – by Five”

Willow: “I got a call from Faith today, this morning, while you were asleep.”

Buffy: “I thought I heard the phone.”

“She said she wants my help. She needs me to help her go after Alti.”

“Really? Don’t tell me she’s found another body to possess.”

“No. Faith thinks she’s still a spirit.”

“So -- what? She wants you to put her into someone’s body just so she can kill her?”

Willow shook her head. “I think she wants me to take her into the Void to help her find Alti. And if she is there, she wants me to help kill her.” -}}}

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *



Chapter One

“Buffy, you won’t believe who called me a couple of hours ago.”

“Well, I would say Faith, but when she left last month she said she was never coming back. So, was it Giles, or Wesley, or . . . ?”

“You already guessed it, it was Faith.”

“She’s not back in town, is she?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know where she was, but it kind of sounded like long distance.”

“So what did she want?”

“It’s about Alti, again.”

“Not another Search and Destroy mission back into that Void is it?”

“No, not the Void. This time she wants me to send her back to ancient Greece where Alti was originally from. She’s hoping that Xena might know where she could find her.”

“What did you tell her?”

“That even with her enhanced Slayer’s powers she was no match for Alti, and that she would probably get herself killed.”

“Didn’t change her mind, though, did it?”

“Not in the slightest. Buffy, I don’t know what to do. I can understand why she hates Alti so much, but I think she’s really getting a little too obsessed with trying to kill her. And I’d hate to be the one who sends her to her death.”

“Then tell her no.”

“But what if she kidnaps someone else like she did Xander to force me to help her?”

“Then I don’t know what to tell you, Will. But whatever you decide, I’m with you, you know that, don’t you?”

“I know, it’s just that . . . .”

“And whatever happens to Faith will be her fault, not yours. If she wants to go off chasing after Alti, that’s her doing.”

“I suppose.”

“And who knows, maybe Xena won’t know where she is, or won’t help her, or maybe Alti won’t even be there.”

“That’s true. I guess I’ll tell her I’ll do it, she said she’d call back in a day or two. She’s probably on her way here.”

* * * * *

Two days later Faith was at Buffy’s front door. There wasn’t as much tension as there had been in the past, but Buffy and Faith still were a bit edgy with each other.

“So you really want to do this? Willow asked.

“Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

“Well, I just want you to know that I’m not real comfortable about all this. I’d hate to think I was sending you to your death.”

“Hey, it’s my life, not yours. But if it makes you feel any better, I’ll even sign a piece of paper saying this is all my idea and you are in no way responsible for what happens to me.”

“Doesn’t matter if you sign a thousand papers, I’ll still feel like it’s my fault if something bad happens to you.”

“Will you talk to her?” Faith asked Buffy.

“I already have. That’s just Willow. She can’t help worrying about the consequences of her magic. Or about feeling guilty if something happens to you. Like it or not, that’s the way she is.”

“But you’re still going to send me back aren’t you?” Faith asked Willow.

“If that’s what you want, sure, I guess so.”

“Then let’s get this show on the road.”



Chapter Two

“Are you going to take any weapons with you?” Buffy asked.

“Shouldn’t need to, with all the swords and axes around everywhere . . . .”

“But they won’t protect you against Alti,” Willow protested. “She uses magic, evil magic. How can you even hope to . . . ?”

“Just send me back, I’ll do the rest. Just make sure I end up where Xena is. If anyone knows where Alti is, she will.”

“All right then. Good luck. Oh, and when you’re ready to come back, Gabrielle has an amulet that lets her contact me.”

“Fine, now if that’s all . . . .”

Reluctantly, Willow began reciting the words to the spell that would send Faith two thousand years and seven thousand miles away.

* * * * *

In less than a blink of her eye, Faith found herself standing on the beach of a small lake. It was a little past daybreak, early spring, and rather chilly.

“Damn,” Faith said under her breath, “Should’ve thought to bring a jacket.”

“Here,” Someone behind her said. “Put this on.”

Faith turned around to see Gabrielle standing there holding out a wool-lined leather coat. Behind her, near a campfire, Xena was squatting down, adding more wood to the fire.

As Faith slipped on the coat, Gabrielle said, “Willow told us you’d be coming, and knowing how warm it usually it in Sunnydale, we figured you wouldn’t think to wear warmer clothes.”

“Thanks.”

The two of them walked back to the warmth of the fire. Xena nodded at Faith but didn’t speak.

“Hungry?” Gabrielle asked.

“Nah, I ate a couple of hours ago. But I could use a cup of coffee.”

“Gabrielle smiled. “Sorry, no coffee here. It’s too bad you didn’t think to bring any hot chocolate. That’s one thing I really miss – chocolate.”

“Yeah, well, next time we’ll make out a grocery list.” Then Faith looked down at Xena. “Are you mad at me?”

“No, I just can’t understand what in Tartarus you’re thinking, that’s all. If I can barely go up against Alti and survive, what makes you think you have a chance?”

“Because I have a few extra resources you don’t have.”

“Such as?”

“You remember when Willow blocked Alti’s magic while I – we, were kicking your ass? Well, that forced Alti to tap into my hidden Slayer strength, and I still have it.”

“So what does that mean?” Gabrielle asked.

“It means that I’m at least four or five times stronger and faster than I was, maybe more. Plus, I heal up way quicker. And my hearing and eyesight are that much better.”

Faith looked down at Xena with a slightly evil smile. “It’s a good thing we’re friends now.”

“And just what are all these new powers supposed to do against Alti’s magic?” Xena asked, ignoring the jab.

“Never know.”

Looking to defuse a potential confrontation, Gabrielle changed the subject.

“So how’s everyone in Sunnydale?”

“Couldn’t say, haven’t been there in a more than a month. Actually, I never expected to go back at all. But this thing with Alti’s really got a-hold of me and the only way to get it out of my system is face her again. And I figured the only way to do that was to have Willow send me back here. Which meant I had to go back there first.”

“We’ll be breaking camp in a little while, so you’ll have your wish soon enough.” Xena told her.

“We only have the two horses, for now.” Gabrielle said, “So it looks like you and I will be riding double. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Fine with me, although . . . .”

“What?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking.”

“WHAT?”

“I was just thinking that I can run faster, and farther, than the horses, that’s all.”

“So your saying you’d rather not ride?” Asked Xena, tiring of Faith’s bragging.

“No, I’ll ride. I was just saying, if it came down to it, you know.”

“We’ll try to find another horse for you at the next town, you CAN ride, can’t you?” Gabrielle asked.

“A Slayer can do anything.”

“You never get tired of hearing yourself talk, do you?” Xena asked, standing up to her full height.

Faith smiled, looking up at Xena confidently. “Not when I have something to say.”

“Okay now!” Gabrielle said brightly, “Let’s get everything packed up, we’ve got a long way to go.”



Chapter Three

After Gabrielle was in the saddle, she leaned down to give Faith a hand up. But instead, Faith went behind the horse and jumped up to land, sitting, behind Gabrielle. The surprised horse reared up, forcing Faith to grab Gabrielle around her waist to keep from falling off. As the horse took off at a fast gallop, Gabrielle tried to take control of the frightened animal.

Xena followed behind, laughing at the spectacle.

Finally, Gabrielle was able to slow, then stop her horse. But even before the animal was at a full stop, Faith jumped off.

Gabrielle dismounted and spent a good while trying to calm down and settle the horse’s fears.

“One word of advice.” Gabrielle told Faith. “Horses don’t like surprises. So when we get you one, try to take it easy.”

Xena hadn’t said anything, but the persistent grin on her face irritated the very embarrassed Faith.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Faith said sullenly.

When they mounted up again, Faith took the proffered hand, not wanting to excite the horse again.

A half day’s ride brought them to a mid-sized village. After stabling Xena and Gabrielle’s horses, they decided to eat lunch before picking out a horse for Faith, since they hadn’t had breakfast. While waiting for the bowls of stew, Faith, who was back to her old self, was telling them some of her stories.

“. . . . And then there was this time that this really bad vamp had a pet alligator I had to wrestle, naked.”

“I don’t know what that it.” Gabrielle said.

“It’s like a crocodile.”

“I don’t know what that is, either.”

“Jeez! It’s a giant lizard with teeth as long as your finger. And it lives in rivers and lakes. And it’s always hungry. I can’t believe you guys have never heard of ‘em.”

“Do you know what a harpy is? Or a dryad?” Xena asked.

“Well, no. But I’m not from around here. Or did you forget?”

“No, I didn’t forget. So why should we know about those giant lizards? Obviously, there aren’t any here.”

“Well, they’ve been around for millions of years. Oh, never mind! The food’s here anyway.”

After the meal the three of them walked back to the stables to see about a horse for Faith. But after looking them over, they discovered that they could either buy supplies for the trip, or buy the horse they selected, but not both.

“We just don’t have enough money.” Xena explained. “It’s at least a five-day ride to where we’re going. And the land we’ll be traveling through is barren and desert-like, with no water and nothing to hunt. So we need the best horse we can get, AND supplies.”

“You could have brought SOMETHING!” Gabrielle said to Faith. “Did you think we were made of money?”

“Hey!” Faith shot back. “How was I to know? You and Willow should have had this all worked out.”

“You’re the one who wanted to do this, YOU should have planned things a little better.” Xena told her, trying not to get angry.

Faith didn’t answer, thinking. Then she said, “Gabrielle, Willow said you had some kind of charm or something so you can get in contact with her. So why don’t you do that, and maybe she can send something back to us.”

“I guess it’s worth a try.”

Gabrielle went into her saddlebag and took out a small amulet and began reciting the words that would activate an identical charm Willow had.

Almost instantly a full size likeness of Willow as standing before them.

“Hi, Guys.” She said. “What’s up?”

“We have a problem.” Gabrielle explained. “In order to get Faith where she needs to be, we need a good horse and a lot of supplies. But we don’t have enough money for both. And Faith suggested that maybe you could send something back to help out with the cost.”

“Well, like what?”

“How about a couple of pounds of gold?” Faith spoke up. “That’s something everybody uses.”

“And just where am I supposed to get all this gold?”

“Just conjure it up. That’s what you witches do, right?”

“Sure we do! And while I’m at it, how about a couple of pounds of diamonds and rubies and emeralds?”

“That’d be great!” Faith said, either missing or ignoring the sarcasm. “And the bigger they are, the better.”

Willow looked at Xena and Gabrielle.

“So, really, what do you think you’d need?”

“I don’t know. Something we could use to trade with, I guess.” Gabrielle answered.

“I was thinking maybe weapons of some kind, but just about everything useful you have there, we already have here.” Xena said.

“Well, what if I just send back enough food for you guys and then you could afford the horse?”

“I guess that would work. But whatever you send has to be something we can eat on the trail and last ten or twelve days without spoiling.”

“That’s no problem. I saw on TV that soldiers are using these ready to eat meals in pouches that last for years. They’ve got them for sale at that Army-Navy Surplus Store. And I’m sure Xander knows which ones are good. So why don’t you go ahead and get the horse, and just as soon as we get the stuff, I’ll pop it right over to you. Oh! And Faith – you do know that when you get back, if you get back, you’re going to pay us back.”

“Sure, whatever.”



Chapter Four

Just as soon as the horse, saddle and bridle were purchased, the three women left the village. Xena wanted to be on the trail as soon as possible. It took Faith a while to learn to ride the horse, but by the time they stopped to make camp for the night, she was riding as well as Xena and Gabrielle.

Xena was just about to break out the smoked venison from her saddle bags when Willow’s image appeared. After a short greeting, a large cardboard box appeared containing one hundred foil pouches of freeze dried meals. She included a dozen chocolate bars for Gabrielle and Xena, and since one third of the meals were breakfast, Faith had her coffee.

“And one more thing,” Willow added after everyone had taken inventory and divided the food up among them. “I did conjure up a little something I thought you guys could use.”

Then a metal container appeared that looked like two pie pans fastened together with a screw-on cap.

“It’s a canteen, for water.”

“We have water skins.” Xena told her.

“But this is a magical canteen. It never runs out of water.”

“Now that’s something we can always use.” Gabrielle commented.

“Just one thing, though, it’ll only last for ten days.”

“That’ll be long enough for us to drop Faith off, and then get back through the Barren Lands.” Xena said. “Thanks.”

“Wait a minute!” Faith said, now anxious, and confused. “What do you mean, ‘Drop me off?’ You’re just going to leave me there?”

“Of course. You said you wanted me to take you where I thought you might find Alti. You didn’t say anything about us staying with you.”

“But how am I supposed to get back?”

“What makes you think you’ll be coming back?” Xena asked, just to annoy her.

For once Faith was at a loss for words.

“Thanks for everything.” Gabrielle said to Willow. “Somehow we’ll find a way to pay you back for all this.”

“I know. I’m not worried about it. Besides, Xander got paid yesterday, so he bought everything. But I’ll be sure to thank him for you. You kids have fun, now.” And Willow disappeared.

Faith finally found her voice.

“So you’re just going to dump me there with no way for me to get back?”

“Take it easy.” Xena told her. “You’re not going to be stranded. There’s another way out.”

“Another way? So why are we going the across that desert?”

“You said you wanted to get there as soon as you could, so we’re taking you through the Barren Lands. Look, it’s shaped kind of like a horseshoe. The open end is away from us, and is mountainous, but it does have a couple of passes. But we’ll be coming from the bottom part of it. Once past the Barrens, it’s mostly fields and woods with a few natural springs. And right in the middle of THAT is where you want to be. It’s a supernatural graveyard, of sorts. It’s where shamans and sorcerers go to cast their most dangerous spells. A lot of them die there.”

“So Alti would be there casting spells?”

“No. She would be there to capture the essence, and the magic, of those who die. It’s one source of her power.”

“And you’re just going to leave me there?”

“You said you wanted to go to some place you could find Alti. That’s the most likely spot I can think of. You didn’t say anything about us staying with you.”

“Fine! I’ll stay there and you two can go scurrying back to you safe little holes. And when I kill Alti, you can thank me for it.”

“Any body Alti may inhabit can be killed. But it’s her spirit you have to worry about. You have no idea just how evil she is, or the powers she can call on.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before. Just get me there.”

* * * * *

As they set out, Faith discovered to her renewed irritation that it was going to take them a full four days just to reach the Barren Land. And to make matters worse, she wasn’t allowed to eat any of the food they got from Willow. It had to be saved until they were crossing the mystical desert and she would have to eat whatever Xena could kill. Only the fact that Gabrielle was an excellent cook kept her from eating her portion.

The next four days weren’t the easiest. Faith was constantly complaining about one thing or another, and Xena was right back at her. Of course, Gabrielle was the peacemaker, trying to relieve the tension from the persistent bickering. Even her storytelling never worked for long.

Xena’s biggest fear was how they were ever going to make it through the Barren Land without actually coming to blows. She knew just how harsh the land was, and how much harder it was going to be to cross it.

* * * * *

Just after sunset they arrived at the edge of the dreaded wasteland. They couldn’t see anything, but they could feel the unnatural cold coming from it, and something else – a feeling of uneasiness and anxiety.

For the first time since they set out, Faith was silent, as were Xena and Gabrielle. It was as if even being next to the mystical land invoked a feeling of trepidation.

The next morning was hazy and cold. There was no sun to speak of, just a bright spot in the white sky. There was no vegetation, no animals, not even the smallest of insect. The only sounds were that of the horses’ hoofs on the rocky ground, and a wind they never felt.

Xena’s fears about their arguing was groundless. No one wanted to speak, such was the oppressive feeling.

The day, every day, started out cold, but by midday, they all had shed their coats and were sweating.

But right after sundown, the temperature dropped below freezing. There was nothing to build a fire with, so supper, all their meals, were eaten cold. And as much as Faith disliked the idea, the three women had to arrange their sleeping furs so they could huddle together for warmth, Faith and Xena on either side of Gabrielle the first night, then switching the following nights so everyone got to be warm at least one night.

Each morning the water in the water skins was frozen solid, but the water from the magical canteen still poured freely, and was warm enough that the freeze dried meals were edible.

Each day melted into the next; there was no change, neither in the freezing nights and searing days, nor in the feelings of hopelessness and despair that exhausted them.

On the morning of the sixth day, they rode out of the Barren Lands and into the lush greenery of the center of the “horseshoe.” The temperature rose almost immediately from the biting cold of mid-winter to the warm spring morning it was supposed to be.

And for once, the three of them were grateful for each other’s company. They laughed and joked with each other as if they were long lost sisters, recently reunited.

At the first spring the came to, they stripped down and bathed in the cool, refreshing, and cleansing waters, as if trying to wash away the mental and emotional pollution of the past five days.

But it wasn’t to last. It was another two days until they reached the Mystical Graveyard, and the squabbling between Xena and Faith was on again by the time they made camp the first night.

Gabrielle had had enough, and just kept quiet and let them argue. She began to suspect that in some strange, twisted way, they were actually enjoying themselves.



Chapter Five

There wasn’t much to see at first, but on closer inspection, the cold ashes of many fires could be seen: places where the sorceresses had brewed their potions and magic tonics. There was a little vegetation, so it wasn’t completely inhospitable. There were bent and stunted trees, victims of the forces, both good and evil, that touched them. Large rocks were thrust out of the ground at odd angles: forced up from the earth by even stronger powers and spells.

Even though the three women knew it was time to part ways, none seemed to want to say it. Despite her former bravado Faith wasn’t sure if she wanted to be alone. And neither Xena nor Gabrielle were looking forward to another trip through the Barren Land.

After a short uneasy silence, Faith quietly said, “If you guys are going, you need to be on your way. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay.”

“Did I say we were worried?” Xena asked Gabrielle, trying to be amusing.

“No.” She replied, not quite so cheerful. “You didn’t have to.”

Then Gabrielle turned to Faith. “When all this is over and you get through the mountains, give your horse her head, she’ll take you back to the village. If we’re not there -- never mind, we’ll be waiting for you.”

Before Faith could answer, Gabrielle put her arms around the Slayer, and without thinking, she responded with a hug of her own.

Xena put out her right hand and Faith took it. As she did, Xena’s left hand squeezed Faith’s right shoulder.

“You take care. Alti’s tricky. You have to watch your back no matter what’s in front of you.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind. So, I’ll see you guys – whenever.”

Without another word, Xena and Gabrielle mounted up, and with a final wave, they turned away from Faith and rode off. Then Xena turned around and rode back to Faith with her and Gabrielle’s water skins in hand.

“You might need these for your journey back. Yours alone may not be enough.”

Then she wheeled her horse around and galloped off to a waiting Gabrielle.

* * * * *

Faith looked around her. She was surrounded by trees, but in the distance, opposite from the way Xena and Gabrielle had gone, she could see the peaks of the mountains.

She mounted up and slowly rode the circumference around the edge of the Graveyard. She found a clearing that had a small stream leading from a spring farther back in the forest running toward the center of the Graveyard, then disappearing into the ground. It was a water source used for brewing potions and other mystical concoctions.

She decided it would be a good place to set up camp.

The first couple of days she patiently waited. Surely some witch would arrive, wanting to cast a particularly dangerous spell. A sure attraction for Alti.

By the morning of the fourth day, her patience was running out. By the fifth, she was tempted to try some kind spell herself, if only she had the ingredients, and the knowledge.

That evening, just before sunset, as she was heating water in an old, but useable copper pot she had found, to add to one of her freeze dried meals, she heard the faintest of hoof beats in the forest. Someone was coming her way, possibly drawn by the smell of her smoke.

As the wind changed direction, Faith detected the odor of the horse, and the rider. It wasn’t a man’s smell.

Alti? Possibly, but would she be riding a horse?

Faith waited, but she remained on guard as the horse and rider came closer.

Soon they broke through the trees into sight.

“Well, well, well.” The woman said, an oddly uncomforting smile on her face. “What do we have here? A stranger.”

The woman studied the campsite, then said, “And all by herself.”

“So?” Faith replied.

“Not very safe for a woman out here alone. Never know what kind of evil things are running around.”

The woman put leg one over her horse as if to dismount, but then hooked it on the saddle horn and looked over the campsite again.

“Good horse.” She said, after eyeing Faith’s mare.

“Is there something you want?” Faith asked, wary. She was studying the woman as much as she was being studied.

The rider was thin, blond, with a very confident air about herself. Faith noticed the handle of a sword showing over her shoulder – she was carrying it strapped to her back as Xena did. A warrior of some kind, no doubt.

Or was it Alti? Xena said she was tricky. Was this some kind of disguise to throw her off?

“What are you doing way out here, away from the rest of the world?”

“I’m waiting for someone.” Faith answered. “And you?”

“Odd place to wait.” She commented, ignoring the question. “Been here a while, haven’t you?”

It was obvious this woman had very acute powers of observation.

“A few days.”

“Who are you waiting for, maybe I’ll know who it is.”

Faith hesitated, the decided to take a chance.

“I’m waiting for a powerful witch named Alti.”

“Alti. Hmm. Don’t think I know the name. What’s so important about this Alti?”

Faith hesitated again, then said, “I’m going to kill her.”

The smile returned to the woman’s face, a slightly evil smile.

“I don’t see any weapons. Rather hard to kill someone without them.”

Faith put her two hands up, fingers spread.

“These are my weapons.”

The woman laughed.

“I’ve heard about people like you, mostly from the lands far to the east. They use only their hands and feet to fight with. Seems like waste of energy to me.”

As she spoke, the woman was slowly pulling her sword from it’s scabbard.

“You’ve never heard about ANYONE like me.” Faith responded.

“It’s so much easier to kill when you have something to kill with.” The woman continued, as if she hadn’t heard.

She then slid down off her horse and walked toward Faith, her sword pointing at Faith’s midsection, the point making small circles.

“When I need a weapon, I can usually find one around somewhere. But usually I don’t need one.” Faith told her.

“Before I show you what I’m talking about, what’s your name? Just so I’ll who I’m killing, not that it really matters.”

“I’m Faith, and you are?”

“Callisto. I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”

Faith shook her head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Any last words? Any great philosophical statement?”

“You think you’re going to kill me? I don’t think so!”

Callisto smiled again then thrust the sword toward Faith’s heart, but Faith clapped her hands on either side of the blade, trapping it.

The smile left Callisto as she pulled on the sword, then pushed it again. It wouldn’t move in either direction. The second time she pulled on it, Faith released it, causing Callisto to stumble back against her horse.

“So you’re stronger than you look.” Callisto said. “But strength isn’t everything.”

“I see you’re carrying a knife. Throw it at me.”

Callisto transferred her sword to her left hand and slowly removed the dagger, then suddenly threw it!

Faith’s hand was a much as a blur as was the knife, and she easily caught it, then tossed it back to Callisto.

Both women stared at each other, waiting for the other to speak, or attack.

Finally, Faith asked, “Is there some reason you carry your sword like Xena does?”

“Xena! How do you know about Xena?”

“She brought me here. Why? Is she a friend of yours?”

Callisto laughed out loud.

“Friend? The next time I see her, I’m going to kill her! And her little friend.”

“I see. Well since there’s no real love lost between Xena and me, then whatever’s between you two is none of my business. But I’d appreciate it if you’d not kill Gabrielle, not until I’ve finished my business with Alti.”

“And just why should I do that?”

“Because I need her to contact someone who can get me back home.”

“I didn’t think you were from around here. So where, exactly, is home?”

“Sunnydale.”

“Sunny? Dale? Sounds like a horrid place!”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

“And you want to go back there?”

“It’s just a stopping-off place. As soon as I get there, I’m gone.”

“And you need Gabrielle to get you there? Why not just contact that someone else yourself?”

“Because the someone else is a witch, and only Gabrielle has the charm or amulet, whatever, to get in touch with her.”

“Another witch? You do keep strange company.”

Callisto was beginning to form a plan.

“So that means you must know where Xena is.”

“Yeah.”

“Then how about we make a little deal? If I help you kill this Alti, you lead me to Xena, and I won’t kill Gabrielle until after you’re gone. Agreed?”

Faith thought about it for a short while. What did she have to lose? Alti would be dead, and maybe Callisto would kill Xena, but maybe not.

“Deal.”



Chapter Six

“So what’s the story with you and this Alti?”

“She invaded my mind and took over my body trying to kill Xena.”

“Ooh, I LIKE her!” An evil grin.

“You wouldn't if it was your head she was in.”

“And this happened here?”

“No, Sunnydale. Xena heard she was inside me and came – went, to Sunnydale to face her, me. But before anything was really settled, Alti left my mind for who-knows-where. And after violating me like that, she’s going to die, horribly if I have anything to do it.”

Callisto watched as Faith took two pouches from her saddle bag.

“Hungry?” Faith asked. “I’m tired of eating half-burned roasted rabbit.”

“I guess could eat. What kind of food is that?”

“I’m not really sure what it is. I should be able to read the label, but I can’t. I think it’s either beef stew, or chicken and rice.”

Callisto watched as Faith carefully tore open the top of one bag and poured boiling water into it and stirred it up.

“This one’s the stew.” Faith said and handed it to Callisto. “It’s pretty good, for what it is. Be careful, it’s hot.”

She opened the second one and repeated the process.

“More stew. I guess the chicken’s all gone.”

As they ate in silence, Callisto examined the pouch. It appeared to me made out of some kind of very, very thin metal lined with something shiny she wasn’t familiar with.

After the meal, Faith collected the pouch from Callisto, rinsed it out and put it back into her saddle bag.

“I’ve never seen food like that. Is that what you eat in Sunny Dale?”

“No, it’s soldier food. Willow got it for us for crossing the Barren Land. Mostly we eat regular stuff.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pouch like that. What’s it made of?”

“I’m not sure. Probably aluminum foil and plastic.”

“I don’t know what those are.”

“Well, plastic is – plastic, I don’t know. And aluminum is just metal.”

“I’ve never heard of ‘luminum. Where do you get it?”

“Out of the ground, aluminum ore, I guess. I’m not a metal-orgiest.”

“Where did you say this Sunny Dale is?”

“It’s in California. And I know you’ve never heard if it. It’s far from here. Very far, WAY far away.”

“So why do you need a witch to take you there, can’t you just ride your horse?”

“No, I can’t. It’s – complicated.”

“And you have to have Gabrielle use a magic charm to call the witch. Then what?”

“Christ! What’s with all the questions?”

“What’s a Christ?”

“Jesus! More questions?”

“What’s a Jesus?”

“If I tell you, will you PLEASE lay off the questions?”

“Of course.”

“Jesus Christ died for our sins. At least, that’s what the Bible says. And before you ask, that’s a holy book.”

“Died?”

“Yeah, he was crucified by the Romans. Or was it the Jews? I don’t remember.”

“The Romans crucify people all the time, what made him so special?”

“He was the son of God. Our god, not yours.”

“So what about this amulet Gabrielle has? Is Willow the witch?”

“Yes.” Faith was losing patience again and was trying to answer the questions without getting angry.

“Willow gave Gabrielle the amulet so she could get in touch with her whenever she wants. So I need Gabrielle to call Willow when I’m ready to go home.”

There was more silence, to Faith’s relief. Then, “Why are you so strong and so fast? You aren’t a demigod are you?”

“No, not one of those. I’m a . . . .” Faith hesitated again. Should she tell her or not?

“You’re a – what?”

“I’m a Slayer, a Vampire Slayer.”

Callisto started to ask, but Faith cut her off. “A vampire is a dead, soulless being who bites your neck and sucks the blood out of you, leaving you dead.”

“Well, I think I might like them, too. So were you born a Vampire Slayer?”

Faith shook her head in exasperation. “What IS it with you blondes? You, Gabrielle, Buffy – can you be any more irritating?”

“You’re not putting me in the same class with that weakling bard, are you?”

“Are you talking about Gabrielle? I got the impression she was pretty tough, for a girl.”

“Sure she is.” Callisto said sarcastically. Then added, “You know, if you’d tell me what’s going on, I wouldn't have to keep asking all these questions.”

“Okay, anything to stop the damned interrogation! Well, let’s see. Vampire Slayers have been around as long as there have been vampires, like thousands of years. They’re probably around here even if you’ve never seen any. And for some reason, there is only one Slayer alive at a time, and it is always a girl. When one Slayer dies, a new one is Called.”

Callisto settled back, she had a feeling this was going to be an interesting story.

Faith continued. “In Sunnydale there is a Slayer named Buffy. Now I’m not really sure of the details, but she died, drowned, I think, for a minute or two. Just long enough for another Slayer to be Called. But Buffy was given mouth to mouth and came back to life. So then there were two of them.”

“Mouth to mouth?”

“Yeah, you know – blowing into a drowned person’s mouth to get air into their lungs. Anyway, when this second Slayer was killed, don’t ask me how, I was Called. So there are still two of us. End of story.”

“No, I think there is more.”

“Such as . . . .”

“Why do you need a witch to travel around? And why are you wearing those strange blue pants? And why do your boots have those blocks under the heels? And why can’t you read the writing on those pouches? And . . . ?”

“Okay! Enough already! First of all, not only am I from thousands of miles away, but I am from the future, about 2000 years, give or take a decade or two. And Willow is such a powerful witch that she can move us through time. These pants are called jeans, and almost everyone in Sunnydale wears them. And I like boots with built-up heels because they make me look taller. And I can’t read the writing because even though, thanks to Willow’s magic, when we travel through time, we can understand the language here, we can’t read our own. Satisfied?”

“I guess, for now.”

“Well, it will just have to do. So, if you don’t mind, I think for the rest of the night I’d like a little quiet.”

“Sure, anything you want.”

Faith built up the fire against the evening chill and settled down on her sleeping furs.

“And by the way,” Faith warned. “I sleep lightly, if at all, so don’t even think about trying to kill me, or sneaking off with my horse. It’ll just get your ass kicked.”

Callisto smiled her usual, evil smile.

“Why, I would NEVER stoop to such a thing!”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t.”



Chapter Seven

“One last question?”

“Okay. ONE MORE, and that’s IT!”

“If Willow is so powerful, why doesn’t SHE kill Alti?”

That was something Faith had never considered and she had to think about it.

“I guess because Alti was only in Sunnydale the one time so she was never a threat to anyone there. So why go looking for trouble?”

“Unlike you?”

“I’m not looking for trouble, I AM trouble, as far as Alti’s concerned.”

Callisto laughed out loud, much to Faith’s irritation, but neither spoke again until daybreak.

* * * * *

The next couple of days went by slowly. Callisto volunteered to hunt for their food. She didn’t particularly like the freeze dried meals, and Faith wanted to save them for the trip back to the village where Xena and Gabrielle said they would be waiting for her.

After a supper of smoked venison, Faith finally asked the question she was most curious about.

“So what’s the story with you and Xena? She must have really pissed you off big time to make you want to kill her so bad.”

Callisto let a smile slowly cross her face, but then it disappeared as she began to speak, staring off into the distance.

“Xena wasn’t always the brave and noble hero you seem to think she is. There was a time when she was just as bad, and just as evil as I am. Maybe even worse. For a while she was known as the Destroyer of Nations. One day she and her army came to my village. And they plundered and looted and killed, and just had themselves the grandest time. And then just for fun, they burned whatever was left, including the people.”

Callisto looked Faith squarely in the eyes. “Do you know what it’s like for a young girl to hear the screams of her parents as they burn to death? No? Then let me tell you. It’s something that never goes away. It’s always with her. In her head, day and night, they scream. And the sight of their bodies being consumed by the flames is there whenever she closes her eyes. And when she sleeps, she relives the horror over and over and over.”

Faith wasn’t sure what to say, or even if she should say something.

“So you see,” Callisto continued, her sweetly evil smile back on her lips. “Thanks to Xena, I’m the woman you see before you today. She created me, made me in her image, and for that lovely gift, I’m going to kill her. But before I do, I want her to watch the most important thing in her life die just as agonizingly painful as possible.”

There was nothing else said that evening.

The next morning during breakfast, more venison, Callisto seemed to back to her old, and somewhat disconcerting, self. And Faith was acting like she wanted to say something, but wouldn’t.

“I know you want to ask me something.” She said to Faith. “What is it?”

“You were really going to kill me, weren’t you?”

“Of course I was.”

“But why? You didn’t know me. There was no reason to.”

“Because you have a good horse, and supplies, and because I was scouting for someplace to set up camp for another army I intend to put together. Couldn’t let the location get out, now could I?”

“I suppose not.”

“I’m bored with this waiting around! I think I’ll do a bit more exploring. I should be back by nightfall.”

Without another word, Callisto saddled her horse and rode off into the forest.

Faith did some exploring herself, on foot. If Alti ever made an appearance, she wanted to know everything about where she was – the best ground to fight on; which trees could provide cover; which ones had the hardest wood (a stake to the heart would kill more than just vampires).

Callisto returned at dusk with a young piglet she had killed. Faith was only too happy to let her skin, gut, and roast it for supper.

After they ate, it was a while before it was “bedtime” and Callisto asked Faith to tell her everything she could about Slayers. Faith didn’t mind. She liked talking about her life as a Slayer. And she pointed out more than once her enhanced powers, just to make sure she understood; Faith didn’t trust Callisto.

The next morning, Callisto rode out again, and returned again at sunset for supper.

“How long do you intend to wait for Alti?”

“As long as it takes, I guess.”

“And you think Xena will wait just as long for you?”

“Probably not. But even if they leave, I’m sure they’ll check back after a few days.”

Tonight it was Callisto’s turn to talk about her exploits, her armies, and the villages and villagers’ lives she had destroyed. As she did, Faith wondered if she really WAS Alti, for surely no sane person could do what she had done and brag about it unless she was totally evil, as Faith knew Alti to be.



Chapter Eight

After many days, just about the time Faith, and particularly Callisto, had lost patience and were ready to leave, someone did show up. It was an apprentice sorcerer wanting to try out one of his newly learned spells. Faith had expected a female, but it really didn’t matter, just so Alti, hopefully, would make an appearance.

Faith and Callisto stayed far enough into the woods that they could watch without being seen.

The young man seemed very serious about his work. He continually chanted in a language neither understood. Occasionally he would look to the sky as if calling upon the power of one or another god. He was dropping powders into a small, dry cauldron sitting over a fire. One by one, the handfuls of powder would burst into flame as they were ignited by the almost red-hot vessel, and as they burned, smoke of various colors were emitted, until there was a multicolored fog enveloping him.

A wind began swirling around him, mixing the smokes until they were blended into a single dark gray color. Faster and faster the winds roiled until they formed a small tornado centered over the cauldron, rising up as high as the tallest trees.

“The kid’s pretty good.” Faith said. “I wonder what it’s for.”

“Probably just for show, and noise.” Callisto answered, raising her voice to be heard over the shrieking winds that sounded like the screams of someone dying a painful and horrific death.

“Maybe all this racket will be just the thing to call Alti!” Faith shouted back.

The gray tornado grew smaller in diameter, yet the intensity seemed to increase. Soon the gray column of smoke turned ebony black and solidified, but continued to spin.

Gradually, the noise subsided, then stopped. The silence was deafening after the mind-numbing din.

Then the black column seemed to slowly melt down until it, somehow, filled the cauldron without spilling over the top.

As the black liquid began to boil, the apprentice began chanting again. As he did, he took a large bundle wrapped in canvas and laid it down on the ground next to the fire. He slowly unwrapped the contents, which was three daggers and two swords.

One by one, holding them by the handles, he carefully dipped the blades of the daggers into the black liquid and when he withdrew them, they had turned a glossy black. The blades of two swords would only go down into the pot one third of the way, but the black fluid flowed upward as it covered them to the hilts.

“He’s turning them into enchanted weapons.” Callisto whispered. “I just might get me a couple of ‘em. No telling who I could kill with weapons like that, like Xena, her little friend; maybe even YOU!”

Faith was chilled by the evilness in Callisto’s voice. As bad as she always thought she was, she realized she was like a saint compared to the blond warrior kneeling next to her.

The young sorcerer took a sword in each hand and was swinging them around as if fending off two opponents.

Faith and Callisto were about to let themselves be seen when the wind kicked up again and the sounds of crackling and faint thunder was heard. Suddenly a woman appeared out of nowhere, wearing animal skins, with the antlers of a small deer on her head cover.

The apprentice faced her, both swords at the ready. She laughed at the pitiful defense, and with a wave of one hand, both swords flew out of his hands. With another wave, he was thrown against a large rock and fell to the ground, bleeding from his mouth and ears.

As he lay dying, Alti knelt down and placed her hands above his body, moving them until she found the right spot, and pulled his spirit from him into her.

When he was dead, Alti stood up and looked around her, then into the woods where Faith and Callisto were watching.

“She knows we’re here,” Callisto said. “Might as well get this over with.”

Both women left the trees and walked directly toward Alti. Callisto had her sword in one hand and her dagger in the other. When they got close enough, Faith scooped up one of the enchanted swords.

Alti watched them both with curious amusement in her eyes.

Faith and Callisto both struck at Alti the same time, but she became a blur and then was behind them. Callisto was momentarily puzzled, and it took a moment or two before she figured out what had happened.

But Faith, who was almost as fast, had spun around to follow and was striking out at Alti even as Callisto turned to them.

Again, Alti ran to get behind them, but Faith was right with her, slashing and hacking at the sorceress.

Tiring of this, Alti put one hand up and stopped the blade without touching it. When Callisto stabbed at her, her blade was also stopped.

For the moment it was a standoff.

“I suppose there is a reason you are trying to kill me.” Alti said to both of them.

“You know very well why I’m here!” Faith said with venom.

Alti got a slightly puzzled look on her face. “Do I know you?”

“Don’t try that shit with me! You know very well who I am!”

“I don’t think she does.” Callisto said. “I think we’ve found her before she went into your mind.”

“What are you talking about?” Alti asked.

“You know very well.” Faith told her. “You took over my mind to try to kill Xena two thousand years from now!”

“XENA! She still lives, even in the future?” Then Alti realized something. “But it’s good to know I’LL still be around.”

“It was your spirit, your body was long dead.”

Alti started smiling, an evil smile to rival Callisto’s.

With another wave, both swords were knocked from their hands, and Alti started laughing.

“So my spirit will endure, that’s good to know. This changes things. It doesn’t matter what happens this body, I’ll live forever and Xena will NEVER know a moment’s peace, and sooner or later, I will kill her!”

“Not if I kill you first!”

Faith launched herself at Alti, grabbed her by the upper arms, and threw her against same rock before she could react.

But Callisto held back, she had another plan – she would get one of the enchanted swords, and then come to an agreement with Alti. Surely with both of them teaming together Xena would die.

Despite her confidence, Faith’s amplified powers were no match for Alti and she found herself pinned to the ground, helpless while Alti stood over her.

“I could kill you now, but after what you’ve told me, I don’t think I will. It looks like you will prove useful, in two thousand years.

Alti looked over to Callisto. “I don’t know what your role in this is, but I just might have a use for you as well.”

“WAIT!” Callisto shouted out, but it was too late, Alti had disappeared with a crackling sound and a bright flash.



Chapter Nine

For a long time Faith was silent -- angry that she was so easily defeated, and alarmed that she had given Alti the inspiration to invade her mind.

While Faith brooded over her terrible blunder, Callisto began to collect her things, including one of the enchanted swords, packing up to go.

“Hey!” She yelled to Faith. “The sooner we get started, the sooner we’ll be through the mountains, and on our way back to Xena!”

Faith slowly looked up at Callisto, then down to the young man lying dead on the ground.

“We have to bury him first.”

“Why bother? The vultures and scavengers will make short work of him.”

“Because it’s the right thing to do, that’s why!” Faith’s anger at herself was directed toward Callisto.

“And by the damned way! Why didn’t you help me like you said you would?”

“Because, Little Girl, I know when to attack and when not to. Something you really need to learn if you intend to keep up this vendetta.”

“I’m NOT a little girl! Now, are you going to help me bury him, or not? Because the longer it takes, the later it’ll be before we can leave.”

“No, you can do that yourself. I’m not in that much of a hurry.”

“Fine.”

Faith looked around to find something to use for a shovel. She had to settle on a broken frying pan, but was only able to scoop out a shallow cavity in the hard ground. After laying the body in it, she used a large rock she found to break off pieces of larger boulders until she had enough to thoroughly cover the body. Faith sat in the shade watching her.

Afterward, Faith gathered up her things, made sure the water skins were full, and saddled her horse. Just before she mounted up, she took the newly enchanted weapons, except the sword Callisto had, and threw them into the stream, hoping they would never be found.

With one last look around, they rode off in the direction of the mountains.

It took two days to get through the mountain passes. Faith used the time to think.

She could not understand how things got so out of control. She was the Slayer, and a Superslayer at that! SHE should be the one calling the shots, the one in charge. But somehow, things weren’t working out like they should, as she had planned.

She finally came to a couple of conclusions.

‘Okay,” she thought, “Alti will take over my mind and body for a while. I lived through it and ended up with amplified Slayer powers, so all in all, that ended up okay, excellent, even. So I can forget about this vengeance thing against her, at least for now.’

Faith looked at Callisto riding by her side. ‘So what to do about her? She is evil, there’s no doubt about that. And even though we aren’t the best of friends, not by a long shot, Xena really does go around helping people and doing good deeds, so I should make sure Callisto doesn’t kill her. Maybe if I can find out what kind of magical power that sword has, I can figure out how to counteract it. But until I know for sure, I probably should let her keep it.’

“You’ve been awfully quiet since we left.” Callisto said to Faith when they stopped for the night.

“Just a lot on my mind -- this problem I created for myself with Alti; watching her suck the life out of that boy. . . .”

“And me with this enchanted sword?”

“Yeah, a little, I guess. Any idea what its power is?”

“Not sure, yet. But don’t worry, by the time we get to Xena I’ll figure it out.”

“You’re really going to try to kill her?”

“No! Of course I’m not going to try to kill her – I AM going to kill her! With this!” And Callisto swung the sword in a circle around her head, making Faith duck out of the way.

By the end of the second day they were out of the mountains and into the foot hills.

“Okay, so which way do we go?” Callisto asked the next morning after they had broken camp. “I can’t wait to see the look on Xena’s face.”

“It’ll take me a few minutes to get my bearings.” Faith answered.

“A few what?”

“Minutes. It’s how we measure time. It means not too long.”

After they mounted up, Faith leaned down to whisper in the horse’s ear. “Gabrielle said you know the way home, so let’s go.”

Faith straightened back up and crossed the reins over the saddle horn, but kept one hand on them so Callisto would think she was still controlling the horse. After the promised few minutes passed, the horse seemed to find its direction and started off with an easy trot. But Callisto wasn’t easily fooled, and as the day wore on, she realized Faith wasn’t guiding her horse. She came up with yet another plan.

But she waited another two days before she made her move. She wanted to make sure the horse was headed to its home village.

As they started out after breaking camp, Callisto deliberately left one of the water skins on the ground.

“Stupid me.” She said to Faith. “Would you mind getting that for me?”

Faith was a bit suspicious, but climbed down after it. As she bent over to pick it up, Callisto grabbed the reins of Faith’s horse, and took off at a fast gallop, laughing out loud as she rode away.

“You BITCH!” Faith said, but more in amusement than anger. “Do you really think you can get away from me like that?”

Faith took a long drink from the water bag, threw it down and took off after them.

She didn’t try to overtake the two horses until they had cleared the woods and were crossing a grassy meadow. Faith picked up her speed until she was close enough to grab Callisto’s horse’s tail. And then she jumped up and landed on the horse’s rump just behind the saddle, one arm going around Callisto’s neck and one around her waist.

And as Faith had expected, the horse reared up on its back legs from the surprise, and Faith jerked Callisto backward so they both fell off as the horses continued to run.

As they fell, Faith wrapped her legs around Callisto’s waist, locking her ankles, then braced herself for the impact with the ground.

The grass had grown high enough that it cushioned Faith’s back somewhat as she landed with Callisto on top of her. But the breath was still knocked out of both of them. They both recovered about the same time, and Callisto was struggling to get free.

Faith released Callisto, pushed her away, then rolled to her feet.

She didn’t ask, but Faith knew Callisto wanted to know how she had caught up to her.

“Never underestimate the powers of a Slayer.” Was all she said.

Callisto was obviously angry, but didn’t say anything. Instead she turned to look in the direction the horses had gone. Then she smiled.

“If I’m not mistaken, there is a village in that direction, maybe another four or five days ride. I wonder if that’s where Xena is waiting.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t tell me even if you did. But that’s all right. I’ll still get there before you will.”

Callisto put two fingers in her mouth and gave out the longest, shrillest whistle Faith had ever heard, and it wasn’t too long before her horse came running back to her. Faith’s was nowhere to be seen.

Callisto jumped up on her horse, but before she rode off she said, “You may be able to catch a horse in the short run, but how are you when it comes to distance, with no food or water?” Then she took off again at a gallop.

Faith just shook her head and repeated to herself, “Never underestimate the powers of a Slayer.” Then she started running, using an easy distance-covering sprint.



Chapter Ten

“Xena, you know you don’t have to stay here. I’M the one who told Faith we’d wait for her. I know how restless you get after a few days of doing nothing.”

“It’s not that bad, besides, where would I go?”

“Well, if you do decide you want to go off for a few days, or longer, I’ll understand.”

“I said I’ll stay! But the question is, how long do YOU intend to stay here? A few more days? A month?”

“I don’t know. But however long it is, I know Faith will be coming back.”

“You do? So what makes you so sure? A far as I’m concerned, Alti is way too powerful for any mortal, even with unusual powers.”

“I don’t know why, but I just am. I just have this feeling. Call it a hunch if you want to.”

“Okay, if you think she’ll be coming back, then we’ll wait for her. So, back to the tavern for supper?”

* * * * *

The next day Faith’s horse galloped into, and through, the village to the stable that was her home.

After inspecting the saddlebags, which still contained a half dozen of the freeze dried meals, two dozen empty pouches, and two of the three water skins tied to the saddle horn, Xena and Gabrielle decided that they should go out looking for Faith. It wouldn’t be much of a problem to back-track the way the horse had come.

The first day was pretty easy tracking since it was mostly flat, grassy land. The second day was through forests so Xena had to dismount several times to find the hoof prints.

Mid morning of the third day found them out of forests again, but the ground was harder, and Xena was off her horse kneeling on the ground when they heard a disturbing and familiar voice.

“Why, Xena, how good of you to come out to meet me.” Callisto said. “But, of course, it does rob me of the pleasure of killing you in front of all of your admirers.”

“Callisto!”

Both Xena and Gabrielle spoke at the same time. Xena stood up and drew her sword.

“What do you want?” Xena asked.

“Why, I just told you – I’m going to kill you. Just like I killed your friend. Now, what WAS her name? Oh, yes, Faith.”

“What have you done to Faith!” Gabrielle asked.

“Don’t either one of you ever LISTEN? I just said I killed her!”

“No! There’s no way you could have killed her, not with her strength and speed.” Gabrielle shot back.

“You’re right, Dearie, she certainly had some unusual abilities, but it was easy, after Alti created this marvelous, enchanted sword for me.”

As she spoke, Callisto brought out the sword, with its glossy, black blade, shining brightly in the sun.

“Alti, too!” Xena said. “Looks like you’ve been busy.”

“Oh yes. After we killed Faith, we had just the most interesting talk. And you’ll never guess who the center of conversation was. It seems like we have a mutual enemy, someone we both want dead. And it looks like this is my lucky day!”

Callisto slid down off her horse to face Xena, wearing her usual evil grin.

The two of them circled each other, each trying to get the advantage of the sun in the other’s eyes.

Callisto struck first, coming down hard to the top of Xena’s head, which Xena easily blocked.

Callisto struck again and again, never giving Xena a chance to go on the offensive. She was driving the Warrior Princess backward, and she was thinking at the same time that the sword’s magic must be added strength and skill.

Gabrielle got down from her horse, her sais in hand, ready to step in should Callisto get lucky.

Xena was starting to battle back, and more than once she was able to sidestep the sword, then kick Callisto in the midsection to start an offensive drive of her own. But somehow, Callisto was always able to redouble her efforts to put Xena back on the defensive.

“You can’t beat me!” Callisto screamed at her. “I have the magic sword! NO ONE can defeat me!”

As the battle raged, Gabrielle was tempted to step in several times, but she knew this fight, this time, was between them. Her time, and her vengeance for Perdicus’ murder, would have to wait.

And then Xena stumbled while backing away. Callisto took the advantage and then suddenly Xena was flat on her back with the point of Callisto’s sword at her neck.

“Oh!” Callisto laughed. “That was just TOO easy! Xena, Xena, Xena, I certainly thought you’d put up more of a fight that THAT! Maybe I should let you up so we could have some more fun.”

Gabrielle started toward them but Callisto saw her movement.

“No, no, NO!” Callisto said to her, her voice cheerful and light.

Then her voice hardened. “You wouldn’t get two steps and she’d be dead, so don’t even try it! But don’t worry, you’re next.”

Callisto looked back down at Xena. “So, dear Xena, do I kill you now, or should we have some more fun? Oh, dear, what to do, what to do? Oh, what the heck, why put it off? I’ll just kill you where you lay, and you can die knowing Gabrielle will be following you to Tartarus.”

Then suddenly Callisto was shoulder blocked to the ground, the magic sword knocked from her hand. Before she could recover, she was flat on her back and Faith had the magic sword pressed against HER neck.

“Don’t even THINK about it!’ Faith said as Callisto looked as if she was going to try to fight back. “Don’t even think about thinking about it.”

“I like your timing.” Xena said to Faith as she got to her feet.

“We’re glad to see you, REALLY glad.” Gabrielle added.

“Then I guess I’m glad you’re glad.” She answered, still keeping Callisto pinned down. “So, what do we do with her?”

“Good question. She said she killed you, with Alti’s help. Obviously, she didn’t, so what happened?”

Faith gave them an condensed version of how she met up with Callisto, Alti killing the apprentice sorcerer, the enchanted weapons, and following Callisto until they all met up.

“Mind if I see it?” Xena asked, holding out her hand for the sword. Faith hesitated, not wanting to take a chance on Callisto escaping.

“Don’t worry about her, she’s not going anywhere.”

Faith handed the sword to Xena while keeping a close eye on Callisto. After careful examination, Xena said she couldn’t tell if it had any magical powers or not.

“I almost killed you with it!” Callisto said with a defiant sneer.

“Maybe. But if it had any real power. . . .”

“Why don’t I take it back to Willow. She would know.” Faith suggested.

“Probably not a bad idea. Besides, we have enough weapons around as it is, we certainly don’t need any with magical powers.” Xena agreed.

“You know, if we let her go,” Faith indicated the still prostrate Callisto, “she’ll just go back after the other sword.”

“So what do you suggest?” Gabrielle asked.

“Are there any prisons or jails around nearby?”

“Sure. But she would have to be put on trial first, if we could think of anything to charge her with.” Xena told her.

“What about her trying to kill you?”

“No. I have to admit, it was a fair fight.”

“What about her stealing my horse?”

“Your word against hers.”

Xena thought for a moment. “It doesn’t look like we have much of a choice except to let her go.”

“Or we can kill her and be done with it.”

“You know we can’t do that.” Gabrielle said. “If we did, we’d be no better than she is, maybe even worse.”

“So we just let her go?”

“Unless you can think of something we can’t.”

Callisto got to her feet. “You all are so PATHETIC! I would kill everyone of you without the slightest remorse, and REVEL in the joy of it!”

“But we’re not you, and glad of it.” Gabrielle said. “But your day will come. One day you’ll pay for your crimes.”

“But not today!” Callisto said as she jumped on her horse and galloped off in the direction she had come.

“This isn’t over, Xena!” She yelled over her shoulder.

The three of them looked at each other, then Faith said, “You guys got anything to eat? I am freakin’ starved!”

“Here.” Xena said and handed her a piece of cheese and some smoked rabbit. “If that will hold you for a while, I’ll hunt something up when we make camp for the night.”

“The saddlebags still had the meals in them that Willow sent. What did you eat while you were chasing after Callisto?” Gabrielle asked.

“Not much, berries and some kind of fruit when I could find ‘em. One night I snuck into Callisto’s camp and took some venison she had. She didn’t even know I was there. I tried some raw fish, but without a knife to scale and gut it, it wasn’t very appetizing.”

* * * * *

As soon as they got back to the village, Faith took her first real bath in almost a month. A couple of times she’d had to swim across rivers, which kept her from being completely filthy, but she was so grateful to be able to luxuriate in a hot bath, with scented oils.

“Gabrielle, if you’ll get in touch with Willow, I’ll get what few things I have together to go back home.” Faith said the next day, after a good night’s sleep, in a real bed.

While Gabrielle went after the amulet, Xena took Faith aside. “Before you go, I just want to say thanks for saving my life. I don’t remember saying it in all the confusion.”

“Hey, no problem. You helped me, I helped you. Worked out okay for both of us.”

“Yeah. So, take care. Tell everyone we said hello. And I’d like to know about that magic sword, since Callisto is probably going after the other one.”



Chapter Eleven

“So tell us.” Dawn said just as soon as Faith was back in the Summers’ household. “Did you kill her?”

“No. But I did meet another of Xena’s enemies. Another warrior woman named Callisto. But first, I’d like to take a good, long, hot shower and get into some clean clothes. Then I’ll tell you all about it.”

While Faith showered, Willow carefully examined the sword, subjecting it to various spells and mystical analyses.

After Faith’s narrative, including the many questions everyone had, she finally got a chance to ask about the magical properties of the sword.

“Well, I can tell you this much,” Willow said. “There is no magic in this sword.”

“You’re wrong,” Faith declared, “I saw what that boy did. He used magic to change the color of the blade. And if I hadn’t been there, Callisto would have killed Xena with it. She outfought her all the way!”

“I’m sorry, but if there was any magic in it at all, even the tiniest bit, I would know it. Even if the magic had left it, there would still be traces of it. So, I’m telling you – this sword is NOT magical, and never was!”

“But what I saw -- something WAS done to it, there had to have been.”

“Oh, it’s been changed, just not to something magical.”

“Then what?”

“The blade has been changed, well not the blade itself, but this black coating has bonded with the iron.”

“So?”

“So now it will never rust.”

“SO?”

“Don’t you get it? Of course you don’t. Okay, let’s say you’re living back in Xena’s time, and you have a choice – either you can have a sword with a bronze blade or one with iron. Now, an iron blade is harder than bronze but it will rust away on you if you don’t keep it cleaned and oiled. On the other hand, a bronze blade won’t rust, but it isn’t as hard as iron, so in a fight with iron against bronze, iron wins. But what if you could make an iron blade would never rust, or get dull, for that matter? Think of the money you could make selling swords and daggers that would last for years without wearing out. Warlords and kings would pay, well, a king’s ransom for such weapons. You’d be rich beyond your dreams.”

“So that’s it? That kid was making rust-proof swords?”

“That’s what it looks like. And if Alti hadn’t killed him, then he might have been one of the guys we read about in history books. But I guess the secret died with him.”

“Well, sonofabitch! Hey, wait a minute! But what about Callisto? She almost killed Xena using that sword. What about THAT?”

“Well, since she thought she had a magical sword, I guess her confidence and motivation made her fight just that much harder, just enough to outdo Xena. She was probably using that hidden strength we all have. You know, the strength you have all the time now?”

“Well, at least if Callisto gets the other sword it won’t really help her any. But we need to let Xena know about this. She wanted you to tell her what you found out, anyway.”

“Okay, I’ll get in touch with Gabrielle right after supper.” Willow said.

“You and Xena bury the hatchet?” Buffy asked. “Sounds like you two are becoming friends.”

“Maybe. She’s helped me out a couple of times and I saved her life, so I suppose we could call it even. Don’t know about that being buds, though.”

“Well, you never know, stranger things have happened.”

The End

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