The Exchange

 
 

Callisto had never before moved as carefully as she did in the unnatural cage of briars. One scratch could mean her death; she had seen death as a mortal, and had no desire to find out what it meant for a god. The woods seemed eerie to her, but she passed that off as her imagination. She didn’t like to be this close to a temple of Ares.

It also occurred to her that there was something morbid about collecting the dried blood of her father’s dead second wife, one she had never even met. Then she had to laugh; the old Callisto wouldn’t have blinked at this, yet now she found it gruesome. Vengeance leaves no room for conscience.

It crossed Callisto’s mind more than once, as she examined each thorn for dark crimson, that there should be some guard here, something to prevent just what she was planning. Ares had trapped the last Golden Hind here in this cage, spilling her blood, a god’s only poison, on the thorns as he warned her from Hercules, the man she loved. Then he gave the bloodied thorns to his archers to try to kill his half-brother. How could the other gods allow this thicket to remain, dangerous as it was to them? As it were, she could only find two stained thistles, but she could not be sure that was all that were left.

Clipping those and securing them in a thick leather pouch, Callisto decided that if Ares was watching, so be it. Let him try to prevent what was coming.

*  *  *  *  *

Her eyes opened with grim reluctance, and Gabrielle clung desperately to the feeling of her dream even as it slipped away. She felt a strange sadness envelope her, as powerful as the happiness in the dream itself.

The details were fading, but she and Xena and Callisto had been traveling together. There was no Velasca; there was no Ares to fight. Small adventures stretched before and behind them, an endless trail of stories, but nothing had come between their camaraderie... not even the past. Gabrielle thought that old mistrusts would pull them apart, but it wasn’t like that at all. She felt safe, as she had with Xena alone, but more than that, Xena seemed truly happy, more completely happy than Gabrielle had ever seen her. Rather than being bothered by Callisto’s presence, instead Xena could relate to the other warrior as she never could with Gabrielle. But Gabrielle was not excluded. The three of them completed each other, like colors in a picture, or threads in a rope.

And then came the sun into her eyes, and consciousness overtook her. It pushed away that feeling with the sleep, and the bard clutched out to pull it back like a child would a favorite doll. If only they could get past this now, the coming showdown against the God of Chaos, perhaps the dream could become reality.

Gabrielle blinked against the sun. Xena sat beside the fire, adjusting the string on a weapon the bard had never seen before, a small, single-hand crossbow.

“’Morning,” she said sleepily.

“Sleep well?” Xena asked, eyes intent on her work.

“Didn’t want to wake up.”

The hint of a smile touched the Warrior Princess’ lips. “When do you ever?”

“Where’s Callisto?” Gabrielle asked, looking around the otherwise empty camp.

Xena pulled the trigger, watching the snap of the cord with interest. “She’ll be along.”

“What is it with you warriors? You all get up an hour before dawn.”

Her jaw had a hard set to it. “Battles start at first light,” Xena said. “But I don’t think Callisto slept last night.”

Gabrielle shook her head, starting to close up her bedroll. “I worry about her.”

Xena turned a scathing look on the bard. “Oh that’s just perfect.”

“What?” Gabrielle cocked her head.

You’re worried about her. Callisto’s the one who got us into all this... her life is all wine and roses and hero worship and you are worried about her.”

Gabrielle stood, hands on her hips. “You know Xena, you’re right. I shouldn’t be worried about her. I should be worried about you.” She stepped towards the Warrior Princess. “I told Callisto that since the temple of the Fates nothing seemed to have changed in my memories of us, but I was wrong. You’ve changed. I used to think you’d come so far, but I’m not sure anymore. Callisto has done everything to earn our faith, but you won’t accept that. You refuse to trust her.”

“Gabrielle, you know all she’s done. How can you forget it?”

“Because it never happened, Xena. This is not that Callisto. And if you can’t believe that, then you’re not the person I thought you were.”

Xena looked at the small bow in her hand, and was silent for a minute before answering. “Maybe you’re right. But maybe neither of us are really those people, Gabrielle. Callisto was a part of my past, maybe a reminder that I needed. Here, she isn’t... and maybe I’ve been wanting her to be.” She turned to look at the young woman. “And maybe here, I’m not the one you should be with.”

Gabrielle thought on that, but her answer was cut off by a gust of wind that turned her head, and then a sight that caught her eye and stilled her heart: the towering figure of Callisto on Whirlwind, racing out of the brush in silence, the lick of flames around the horse’s hooves and nostrils again, and eyes of piercing blue in a face both from her dream and not.

She reined up. “Theodorus is on the move. He’s already sent scouts ahead and the army he’s meeting is closing on Pharsalus.”

Xena stood. “Our reinforcements?”

“Still hours away,” the goddess shook her head.

“Can’t you do something?”

“I’m helping all I can... They should be days away. But there’s only so much I can do.”

Xena frowned. “We can’t go against Theodorus’ army alone.”

“We can try cutting them off, diverting them. I can’t allow them to take Pharsalus... there’s too many lives at stake.”

Gabrielle was still dumbstruck. “Callisto... how?”

The goddess turned a worried but hopeful face to her. “I’ll explain, Gabriangel. For now,” she held out her hand, leaning down, “do you trust me?”

The bard looked at the hand, then the horse, then the eyes. Whichever color they were, those eyes, she saw the same soul behind them now as she had the night before. She put her own hand in Callisto’s and the warrior lifted her effortlessly to the saddle behind her with a smile.

Xena mounted Argo beside them, and Callisto gestured at the mare’s hooves with a hand. Argo pranced restlessly, and Xena had to grip the reins tightly to hold back the sudden overabundant energy in the horse.

Callisto turned her head to Gabrielle with a smile. “Hang on...” she said, and as the bard wrapped her arms tight about Callisto’s waist, the goddess snapped the leather and kicked back with her heels. “Yah!” she called, and the magical beast beneath them bolted into action, Argo and the Warrior Princess only a step behind.

*  *  *  *  *

Pharsalus lay waiting for her army to devour. Velasca could picture the destruction to come in her mind, and it felt good. The fires, the killing... too long since she had been here. This town needed a reminder of who its master was.

The God of Chaos had been young when her mother had died and Melosa had taken her in. What a horrible experience that had been. Learning so much of the history of the Amazons, how powerful they had been once, and seeing through Melosa’s eyes how weak they had become. Velasca, with her young ideas and energy, had always pressed the Amazon Queen to fight to return to the old ways, the conquering ways. But Melosa was a fool.

No one had ever been exiled so young as she had been. And it was the best thing that ever happened to her. Out in the world, fending for herself, she could stop worrying about her nation’s destiny and instead pursue her own. It didn’t take long in the world of men for her unique skills of war and pain to gather a following. Velasca heard, of course, of that other woman warrior, Xena of Amphipolis, and her massive army. With the young Warrior Princess as her idol, Velasca followed the same path.

Those paths led to an inevitable crossing, here in Pharsalus.

At the meeting of two trade routes, Pharsalus was a prize. As Velasca’s army approached, her informants told her that Xena’s army had already demanded the city’s tribute. The exiled Amazon would not give up so easily, however. Though larger than her own, Xena’s force had one weakness — the thinnest veneer of honor. Xena would not kill women and children. So in a move that would make her name legendary, Velasca sent word to the rulers of Pharsalus that if she was not given the town’s tribute, Pharsalus would not only be pillaged, it would be razed. As a demonstration, she sacked, burned and erased a small village nearby, by the name of Cirra.

Pharsalus paid its tribute, and to Velasca. Then Velasca led her army into the town anyway, and holding the town leaders captive, used the city’s defenses to stave off the attack Xena made against it, and her, when the Warrior Princess learned of the duplicity. Eventually Xena’s forces retreated, with their reputation forever diminished, and Velasca’s name soon to be a household word.

Somehow, though, in the long run, it was a hollow victory. She had become wealthy as well as feared, as her army moved from town to town, its notoriety alone enough to win many of its battles. But there were defeats as well.

She made an elegant dance with the forces of Xena, each picking their targets carefully, but rarely coming close to one another out in the open. Still, the Warrior Princess would never go away, and there were few times one was mentioned without the other more than a sentence behind. Never was Velasca thought of alone, and it grated on her.

Velasca forged a brief alliance with Hera, thinking it might lead to fame denied in what she had with Ares. But that lead only to new enemies, the sanctimonious Hercules, and, worst of all, his selfless and seemingly amaranthine daughter, Callisto. The last daughter of Cirra, cheating Hades again when the rest of Hercules’ family died. How often had Velasca heard of Callisto’s heroic deeds, upsetting this warlord and that evil king. With Hercules or alone. Velasca detested the mention of Callisto’s name, would kill even her own soldiers if they spoke it aloud.

And now, it seemed that even Xena herself was moved by the stories; the second time Velasca had met the Warrior Princess since her “redemption”, whose company was she in?

Full circle, wasn’t it, that meeting in Maelon? In so many ways. Velasca had made Callisto, long ago. Now Callisto had joined her other great enemy, and— the absent Amazon Queen.

As despised as she was by them, Velasca had given up everything, her army, her fortune, when she heard Melosa was dead. At last, she thought, this was her chance to bring what was left of the Amazons back to some semblance of their former glory. She was exchanging everything in her life for them. Surely they could see that.

But they could not. Instead of granting her the mask, it was passed instead to the impostor Gabrielle. She was not of the bloodline, she was not of the community... even Xena would have been a better choice, had she been alive. But the Amazons rejected Velasca’s request, at the forfeit of their own lives, and Gabrielle had worn the mask, defended, upon her untimely resurrection, by the Warrior Princess herself.

Yet it was not a total loss. Velasca had not put aside the pleasures of war for nothing. Gabrielle’s own quest for her partner’s life had seen to that. Velasca had actually exchanged her infamous career for something she had longest desired: a name of her own. Velasca was now the God of Chaos, and after this, her greatest campaign, even as a minion of Ares, when people spoke her name their voices would tremble in fear, as with no other.

And now that campaign brought her back to Pharsalus. So it was fitting to know that following her now was her golden triumvirate, whose lives were also tied to this place, and to her. Prepare yourself, town at the crossroads. Your master has returned.

*  *  *  *  *

The city had looked different to Xena, as they rode up to it, than it had just days before as they left. It was constant vertigo, the way her memories were adjusting. Perhaps it was that this time they rode up in daylight, and before had been under the cover of night, but the sight of the city’s walls and towers rising upwards from the horizon had brought back strange feelings to her. She had sat out here before, on horseback, and she had led men beyond them, to their deaths. Aside perhaps from Caesar, this had been her greatest defeat. One she had never repeated.

“We do not have the numbers to replay Velasca’s victory here,” the militia captain argued. “She had thousands at her command, to your thousands, Xena.”

The Warrior Princess shook her head. “We don’t need to defeat them, only divert them.”

Callisto nodded, leaning over the map spread out on the table before them. She was glad Gabrielle had taken the aldermen outside the council chambers. Politicians rarely knew enough about tactics to be useful, but never lacked a vocal opinion about the subject. As difficult as it had been to convince the city leaders to accept the help of a woman who had once besieged them and demanded tribute, it would have been impossible to assuage their fears if they learned how tentative their position really was, even though they did trust Callisto, at least.

“If we can lead as many as possible into the cul-de-sacs here,” she pointed, “here, and here, we can convince them it is unwise to stop here on their journey. And before they make it to the next city, our reinforcements will have arrived.” If there was one thing her old life still gave Callisto, it was an intimate knowledge of Xena’s war strategies. It made them nicely complimentary leaders.

“Pharsalus is a well-built city,” Xena agreed. “That’s why it’s rarely needed more than the few hundred militia men you command to defend it.”

The captain was still skeptical. “So why would Theodorus — and Velasca — attempt to attack here in the first place?”

“Because Velasca is arrogant,” the dark-haired woman said. “She thinks she knows the defenses you will throw up against them and be able to inform Theodorus how to get around them.”

“And,” Callisto added, “because she thinks we are still behind them, not already here.”

The captain thought on that a moment. “Then she’s in for the surprise of her life.”

The blonde goddess gripped the leather pouch at her belt. “Or of her afterlife,” she said.

*  *  *  *  *

Word from Balthus was that his men were still an hour’s ride east. Theodorus pondered the news as he pondered the battlements around Pharsalus. If he attacked now, he’d have to make do with the two thousand already here. His gut said to wait; he’d already been given the news that the city’s gates were closed and bolted. Pharsalus was a trading town and closed for nothing — meaning they’d already heard he was coming. Another hour and it wouldn’t make any difference, Pharsalus would fall before twelve thousand, but only two against its militia and battlements was a risk.

Velasca did not want him to wait, though, and he made a point of not crossing Velasca.

Xena’s mistake had been not knowing the layout of Pharsalus well enough. That would not be his error. Theodorus had had scouts making maps of towns from here to Athens for weeks. On top of that, he had scouts within the town even now. By the time he reached the main gate with the brunt of his forces, he fully expected it to be open.

Which it was. With the power of two thousand soldiers, ten thousand more an hour away, and the wind of Velasca at his back, Theodorus’ legion poured through the entranceway to Tartarus on Earth.

*  *  *  *  *

Argo felt especially spry beneath Xena as the warrior wheeled her in and amongst the confused soldiers of the attacking army, this one of the many splintered bands lost in the labyrinth they had made of Pharsalus’ streets. With Callisto, the quintessential study of not only Velasca’s tactics but Theodorus’ as well — one from this life and the other the last — on her side, the few hundred militiamen Xena led were proving more than enough.

Callisto had predicted Theodorus’ plan to open the gates from within. As it was, none of his agents had gotten near the gates. Xena had opened them herself.

As the army muscled through the breach, the militia captain gave the order to retreat, and his forces split and ran in several directions. As expected, so did the attackers. Leading the charge, Calamus, one of Theodorus’ lieutenants, ordered his men to pursue. With the maps drilled into his head, he called directions to his soldiers from atop his horse, riding alongside, sword ready and heart pounding. As he saw retreating backs turn down a main road Calamus sent the largest portion down a narrow alley to cut them off, knowing the road would double back.

Calamus did not know that the map in his head was wrong that day.

As the squadron emerged from the alley they found not the main road but only another alley, and following it, a dead end. As they began to turn back, Calamus saw two things before he died: the raven-haired Warrior Princess he’d been informed was still miles north of Pharsalus, and something that made even less sense, that he and his men were not in an alley at all. In fact, on all four sides were, impossibly, connected buildings, with no exit. Before he could make the slightest explanation of it, Xena had sliced open his chest from right soldier to left hip.

Once her band had disposed of the trapped attackers, Xena led them back through the mirage and towards another deluded splinter.

*  *  *  *  *

Callisto stood atop the wall walk behind the parapet, anxiety writ across her face. Her fingers kept toying with the hand-crossbow at her belt. She watched the force continue to enter from the plain beyond through the nearby gate into the city. A small portion of her thoughts maintained the illusory walls among the streets behind her, but most were directed at watching and feeling for Velasca’s presence. Callisto knew that once she realized Theodorus’ attack was going horribly wrong, the God of Chaos would show herself. Then the real fireworks would begin.

*  *  *  *  *


The Warrior Princess would have shared Callisto’s edginess if the pulse-pounding of battle lust was not in her head. Combat had been in Xena’s life every day since Cortese had come to Amphipolis. It was part of her soul now, from the bruises and sweat to the strategy and give-and-take. Life decided in split seconds. Nations rising or falling in the game of planning and the immediacy of will.

Xena drove a hard charge past the city’s main gate once again. Glancing by as she passed, she saw Theodorus guiding the stream of soldiers, shouting commands and consulting lieutenants. He looked uncomfortable. Xena knew how he felt; Theodorus was a warrior first, and he’d far prefer to be smashing heads than giving orders.

Then, as Argo pounded into another cul-de-sac and Xena sent a helmet flying with a kick and chopped short a pike with a sword blow, she realized that she knew exactly how Theodorus felt. She empathized with him, and it scared her. To lead a powerful army against a helpless town, claiming booty or cutting down its defenses; smell the smoke and shed blood; get drunk nightly and share the bawdy jokes with other soldiers about the campfire; watch underlings jump at your orders and cower beneath your rages, always knowing that in the next town could be your demise. For a second Xena thought it was another trick of Callisto’s, this burning within, as in that illusory moment before a frozen Perdicus in that other life. But it was not.

Something strong within Xena found the memories of that life she had led warm and happy ones. She did not know if it was the Fates’ doing, that maybe here she had not changed so much, just as Gabrielle had said. It did not matter. That part of her was strong now, for whatever reason. And she wasn’t so sure how long she could fight it.

*  *  *  *  *

Theodorus struggled to keep from striking Talen as the lieutenant told him of the mayhem beyond the city walls. If they could not win here, what hope did they have against Athens, even with ten times the force?

“Somehow the maps we had are no good, sir,” Talen spoke heavily. “There are buildings where there should be roads and walls where markets should be... it’s like a maze.”

Yet another messenger pushed his way close to the general amidst the throng already there.

“I want word to all the commanders,” Theodorus ordered, “no pursuit.  If they want to run, let them run. We’ll take what they give us for now, until the reinforcements arrive.”

“Sir—” the messenger spoke up, but Talen cut him off.

“We can try pulling back and shoring up, but it seems like each move we make, Xena is already ahead of us.”

“General—” again the messenger, a tired young man on a sweating horse, tried.

“Xena?” Theodorus frowned more deeply. “The Warrior Princess cannot be here yet.”

“She is, sir,” Alteus, another commander, replied. “I have seen her myself. She killed Calamus.”

“And Callisto?” Theodorus absently touched the scar on his chest.

The round of soldiers shook their heads.

“If Xena is here, then Callisto is too.” He thought for a moment. “My order stands. Pull back nearer the gate, and hold until Balthus arrives.”

The messenger cleared his throat. “General, I have news from Balthus. They have been delayed.”

“How long?”

“Three hours, maybe longer,” the young man answered. “Stormy weather is bogging them down.”

“We won’t survive three hours in there,” Alteus said.

“Not with Callisto and Xena leading the charge,” Theodorus agreed. “Signal the retreat. We’ll move on to join Balthus.”

The commanders nodded and started off immediately. Theodorus started a mental assessment of the casualties when, turning his horse about, he saw Velasca standing in front of him, blue eyes narrowed.

“Coward! You cannot retreat now!” she ordered.

“You wish to reach Athens?” Theodorus returned. “Then we do not squander our men here.”

“I will not let them defeat me!” her mouth twisted in fury.

The warrior gestured at the city walls. “Do you want to fight Xena and Callisto? Or does Ares still have his leash on you?”

With a look that might have killed by itself, Velasca disappeared in a shimmer of light. Swallowing hard, Theodorus began to regroup his forces.

*  *  *  *  *

The first lightning bolt struck as Xena led a chasing force out the city gate. It killed as many of Theodorus’ men as militia, and its primary target was quick enough to get out of its way, though the blast left her ears ringing.

Before a second could come, a bolt returned from atop the city wall towards the source of the first, high in the air, and as Callisto vanished and reappeared on the ground near her own general, there appeared to be a falling star trailing down from the sky before Velasca regained her bearings and alit in the space her attack had vacated.

“Trying to turn the odds, are you, Velasca?” Callisto said to her enemy. “Or just covering your troops as they run away?”

Velasca smiled. “Oh, you are a worthy opponent, Callisto. I underestimated you.”

“Not the best thing to do,” Callisto returned, and blasted the ground at Velasca’s feet out from under her. The God of Chaos nimbly leapt to the side and rolled, coming up firing. Callisto ducked and the bolt went over her head and harmlessly to the clouds.

Soldiers were running on all sides. Xena ordered her men back to the gate. Gabrielle, bucking the flow, moved along the outside of the city wall for a better view.

“We could play this game all night,” Velasca said, firing at Callisto again.

The blonde warrior goddess did her own tuck and roll. “We could...” she called, and let another bolt fly, this one glancing off the God of Chaos’ shoulder. “But is this how you want the show to go?”

Velasca appeared almost pained. “How do you mean?”

Callisto’s hand touched at the leather bag on her belt, beside the hand-crossbow. A few more well-aimed shots... “I mean, here, with your army running, and me with a fortified city at my back?” But now was not the time, she thought. She needed Ares as well... “I thought you’d rather have it be a fair fight.”

Velasca too was scouting for an opening. Callisto was good. If they had both been mortal, the saint would probably have won — which was exactly why Velasca had never allowed that meeting to happen. But Callisto was new at this game. And over by the city wall, she saw her opening.

“Oh, but Callisto, don’t you know?” Velasca sneered. “I never fight fair.”

With a twitch of her hand, Velasca disappeared. As Callisto was searching with her eyes and feeling with her thoughts, the ground bucked beneath her. She heard the scream as she searched for the source: the ground near the city wall was splitting into giant blocks, each shifting and moving. Callisto could see the dull red of lava pouring out from the gaps as the boulders split and slipped. And there, almost in the middle of them, stood Gabrielle.

Xena had seen Gabrielle too, and was trying to get Argo to head that way, but the mare was instinctively bucking against the commands. As Callisto watched, she felt the hair on her arms stand up, and had to dive to avoid the lighting bolt that came straight down from the sky at her.

The ground-shift was tearing at Pharsalus’ walls, and cascading bricks from above became another threat to the bard besides the blazing below. Callisto knew she had the power to end this, to finish Velasca for good, but something stayed her hand. If she didn’t act now, Gabrielle would be dead. There was no guarantee that Xena would reach her in time. Callisto whistled shrilly.

Gabrielle used her staff for balance and tried to stay away from the lava, but it wasn’t easy. The smell of sulfur was making her sick, and every ten seconds what had been horizontal ground was suddenly a steep grade. “Xena!” she called, seeing the Warrior Princess struggling towards her from farther along the wall.

Lightning cracked nearby, and Gabrielle flinched at the flash. Just as she drew back, a large brick passed inches from her nose from above, but she had to pivot on her staff to avoid the lava it splashed up from the fissure beside her rocking block of earth.

More lightning, and closer. As if she didn’t have enough to worry about? The bard was slowly making her way out away from the wall and the falling bricks, and to where the splitting ground was less so. Behind her there was a rumbling, and she turned her head slowly. The wall was tilting in a tall column, separated from either side, and the tilting was, to her dismay, directly towards her. She scrambled faster. “Xena!” she called again.

Ten feet more, she said to herself, the rumbling very loud behind and a sulfurous wind blowing over her. The last thing she saw was the flat earth ten feet away become fifty as the ground split yet again, and then a flash of lighting blinded her. She could hear the bricks pelting around her amidst the blast of thunder—

—and then she was lifted by her waist and set atop a driving horse with a familiar arm holding tightly around her. “Hang on!” Callisto yelled over the cacophony.

“I’m not goin’ anywhere!” Gabrielle called back, hanging onto the saddle horn, white-knuckled. As her vision came back, she turned her head just as the section of wall smashed to earth, sparks and dust and splashes of lava everywhere. Whirlwind was driving upwards away from it, twenty feet off the ground and rising. Gabrielle felt a prickling on her skin and, turning her head back around, jumped, startled, as a crackle of lightning shot from Callisto’s hand into the sky.

“It’s all right, Gabrielle,” Callisto soothed, “you’re safe.” Her eyes searched the heavens as they headed back in an arc towards the ground. “She’s gone.” The cracked ground was settling into place even as they landed.

Xena was upon them before they had finished dismounting, right in Callisto’s face.

“What did you think you were doing? Velasca could have destroyed all of us! You could have finished her!” Xena yelled.

Callisto’s face was dark. “It wasn’t the right time.”

“I thought that was your plan!”

Callisto turned an incredulous look on the general. “I guess you didn’t notice I was a little busy!”

“How ’bout next time, I take care of Gabrielle, and you take care of the god, huh?”

Gabrielle turned an angry look on Xena. “I can take care of myself, both of you!” She turned her back, stomping off.

Callisto let out a deep breath. “Gabrielle—” she started after the younger woman, but Xena stopped her with a stiff arm.

“I can handle this,” the Warrior Princess said, and followed.

“I hope so,” Callisto said to herself.

Xena caught up to the bard. “Gabrielle...”

“You have to start trusting her, Xena.”

“I’m trying.”

Gabrielle turned to face the warrior. “No you’re not. Callisto saved my life back there, Xena. And you question her for it? Me, I’ll just stick with a thank you.”

Xena bowed her head. Her words came with difficulty. “I’m sorry, Gabrielle. I’m grateful she saved you. It’s just... Callisto says that I’m jealous of the two of you.”

Gabrielle shook her head. “You are jealous, Xena, but not about what we have. You’re jealous of what she is. You still think that Callisto is what you used to be. You can’t accept that she’s actually what you could have been.”

Xena met her with troubled eyes.

“I’m gonna go help with the wounded,” Gabrielle said, and started back towards the city gate.

*  *  *  *  *

Xena found Callisto inspecting the damage to the city wall, standing beside the crazily tilted earth beyond it. “We’ll have to come back to help them repair it,” Callisto said.

“Can’t you just...” Xena twiddled her fingers at the wall.

Callisto half-smiled. “I’m not that kind of god. Anyway, I’m not that used to my powers yet.” She turned and looked across the plain at the dust Theodorus’ army was raising in its retreat. “For now, we better get moving. We need to catch up with our reinforcements and work out plans.”

Xena nodded. “And we’ll need to scout the terrain, figure out where the best place for the battle is, to our advantage.”

“Oh, I know where the armies will come together,” Callisto shook her head. “I guess I’ve always known where this has to end.”

“Where’s that?” Xena asked, but somehow she already knew.

“Cirra,” said Callisto in a voice heavy with resignation, and eyes that saw beyond the world. “We’ll meet again in Cirra.”

 

XIII: God of Chaos