Title: The Dark
Author: Annie Beaudry
Email: Goddess_Torment@yahoo.com
Fandom: Xena: Warrior Princess
Rating: R -- Extremely violent and very intense... not for younger readers!
and brainwashed.
Summary: Xena is kidnapped and is beaten, drugged
Archive: The Haven of Fic Archive
Author's Notes: This story is based on a Batman Graphic Novel written by Jim Starlin. It is extremely dark and is not intended to be read by younger readers!
This story is mostly written in a first person format, from Xena's POV, and is the first time I have ever attempted this before. Enough with the seemingly endless babble. I sincerely hope you enjoy this story!
I would appreciate ANY comments about this story! Please feel free to email me at the above addy! Thanks!

What is this? I've been this way many times before and don't remember seeing that run-down house before. It's horrible! It doesn't belong here in Amphipolis! It's crazy. almost. surreal looking. I shouldn't be entering this place! I should be back at my mother's with Gabrielle. But there's something about this house. it beckons me. I can't seem to resist it! I can feel a cold sweat trickling down my back. My heart is beating wildly in my chest as I open the front door! I don't belong here! I want to leave but I enter instead. I think it's the rush of fear-induced adrenaline that entices me to stay. There's danger here. and death. I can sense it. I savor the fear that threatens to overwhelm me. it can't hurt me. I'm Xena, the warrior princess! I have beaten gods in combat! I'm invulnerable! At least. that's what Gabrielle writes in her scrolls. I'll beat the bad guys and live to see another day. won't I? I see the door at the end of the hall and begin to doubt myself. There's something evil behind it. something sinister! I can feel it waiting for me! By the gods, I'm terrified! My footsteps echo in the still air and my mouth is suddenly dry. I want to break free of the spell I'm under! I want to scream and run! But I open the door instead. I couldn't stop myself! I feel compelled to follow the steps down into the darkness. I can hear the distant dripping of water and I try to turn around. but can't! My terror grows within me. I can almost taste it. The steep stone steps lead down as though straight into the depths of Hell itself. Why did I enter this dreadful place? A useless question now. it's too late now to turn back. not that I could.

Its hold over me grows stronger with every step I take. I have no idea what form it will take. No matter where I run. where I hide. it always finds me. Maybe this is why I never settled down. I finally reach the bottom of the stairs and can see a trapdoor in the floor. I can't stop myself from opening it. it silently calls to me. I see a familiar form leap from the hole in the ground and land in front of me. grinning wildly! Callisto! But. it's not Callisto. it's a demon wearing her body.I can smell its fetid breath and see its yellow eyes staring at me.

"Ooh! And what have we here? A little girl? Mmm, I love little girls. and you're just my type!"

I try to protest as she steps closer. her long blonde hair blows around her face. it makes her look like a ghost.

"You don't have to be scared of your Auntie Callisto! I'm only here to play. just like a cat plays with a mouse. before she eats it!"

She raised her sword. where did she get a sword from? I didn't see it before. Where's my sword? It's not on my back. and my chakrum is gone too! Too late! She's bringing her sword down. I'll be dead in a few moments. in a way, I almost look forward to it. I try to move but can't seem to move my body! She's grinning wildly as her sword touched my head and. nothing.

Nothing but the sound of her insane laughter!

"You should have seen your face!"

I am finally able to move and speak again.

"You're sick! I've had enough of you! So many people have died because of you!" I raise my sword above my head. I don't know where I got it from. doesn't matter.

"Because . of . you!" I screamed the last words at her as I bring the sword down and felt it bite deep into her shoulder! I relished the look on her face. a mixture of fear and hate! I pulled the sword out and raised it to hit her again. and again. and again! It felt great! I should have done this years ago when she kidnapped my best friend and tried to kill her! My best friend, Gabrielle.. Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle!" I scream out as I came to. I open my eyes and look around. it was a dream, just a dream. the same one I had been having all week. Good thing I'm not a superstitious Roman. I might think it was an omen. But I don't believe in omens. I'm Xena and I don't believe in superstitions! I believe only in what I can see . and touch . and kill. No! I've changed! I don't kill anymore. at least. I don't think I do. do I?

The pain of my shoulders and arms were beginning to remind me of the present. My hands are tied above my head by a rope that was digging into my skin and re-opening the same wounds it had caused in the first place. No matter how hard I try, I always come back to the here and now. back to the constant pain. back to the agony. back to the madness. I think I've been here a week, maybe more. I can't really tell. there's no sunrises. no sunsets. not here. in the dark dungeon of a forgotten castle long abandoned. and just the constant pain . and the chanting. Someone is coming. I don't know their real names. I call this one the Rat. it scuttles along like a rodent. He had a torch in his hand and I can see his face. he even looked like a rat. I smiled grimly.

"He is coming! The god is coming! He was here before your gods and he will be here long after! His glory will live forever!" The Rat spoke for what seemed like an eternity. trying to tell me of the history of this "god". how it was entombed by unbelievers. how it remained entombed for a thousand years. he ended by finally telling me the "god's" name. Kurtan. That was the first time I had heard his name.

"You can tell Kurtan he can go to hell!" My voice sounded strange . kind of dry and scratchy. I tried to spit on the man, but my mouth was so dry I couldn't do anything more than make the motion at which the man laughed at me. which made me angrier. I struggled against the rope but cried out in pain when I felt a burning jolt of pain shoot through my body.

"You don't really expect me to buy into that load of."

"If you expect to live, you will accept it. It is the word and the word is good! The longer you resist, the greater will be your pain!" He slapped me across my face and I could feel the saltiness of blood in my mouth. My cheek burned where he hit me. I longed to reach out and tear his rat face apart.

"Patience, my son!" This was a voice I had never heard before. I turned my head to see who was talking, but couldn't quite see the person.

"She must be given time to accept the truth. Do you forget so soon your own doubt when you first joined? Remember that she will soon be your sister in truth."

The man who was speaking finally came into view. a tall man with long white hair and a deep tan. and. horns? I saw the image of the man before me flicker and saw a brief glimpse of a demon. I shook my head and saw the man again. I looked at the Rat and saw him cowering and bowing low before the man. So, this is Kurtan. if I could get free, I could take him! Even the way I am now, I could still take him! He stood before me. strong. powerful. confidant. He seemed to glow with an inner light. I could almost believe. NO! I can't think that. I can't allow myself to even consider that! That's what they want! To doubt. to weaken. to believe. If I do that. he's won.

I still remember the first time I met him. Gabrielle and I arrived in Amphipolis to visit my mother and he had just set up a home for the homeless across from one of the taverns. I stopped by to make sure that he was alright, but he seemed to get along fine without me. Gabrielle and I had decided to stay for a few weeks so that Argo could rest up, she had thrown a shoe and may have pulled a muscle. My mother didn't mind the extra help Gabrielle offered either. After about a week, I was being blamed for several attacks on some of the town's thugs and lowlifes. I didn't do it, of course, and had an alibi for the most recent attack. the town's own guards. There had been a brawl at a tavern while I was having a drink and I tried to settle things down. The guards showed up and assisted me, taking the ones who started the fight to the town's gaol. I went to the scene of the last assault and look around carefully. A guard was with me and I pointed out several sets of footprints.

"Looks like you've got at least four people who are trying to clean up the streets." I told the guard.

He agreed with me. The question was: Who were they?

At first people were happy with the unknown vigilantes. It was safe to walk the streets at night again. there were hardly any fights at the taverns. nobody sleeping on the streets. Nobody thought about where the homeless people went, not at first. But then other people started disappearing and I began to wonder. where did these people go?

It all came clear one night when I was walking alone.

I heard the sound of swords clashing and ran to investigate. I should have known better, it was the bad side of town. As I rounded a corner, I saw a man lying on the ground trying to protect himself from two punk kids. I ran to help the man. The battle was short and I was pretty gentle on the kids. one had a broken arm and the other a couple of cracked ribs. They were young and would heal in a few weeks. they would also learn a lesson about bullying.

I was anxious to get back to my mother and Gabrielle. I promised I wouldn't be gone long. I got careless. and I paid for it. It was dumb! There's an old saying. no good deed ever goes unpunished. I learnt that rule that night. Even though I heard someone behind me, I didn't look to see who it was. I should have. I don't know who hit me and I lost consciousness. I don't know how long I was out, but long enough to drag me . here. where ever here is. and tie me up.

When I came to my hands were tied above my head and no matter how hard I struggled, I couldn't free myself. People came and went. telling me stories about this wonderful god. I heard the same garbage about every other god, this one was no different. if indeed he was a god.

Several people stepped forward and told their own story of how Kurtan had saved them. I kept my mouth shut. I've heard it all before. This was the classic recruiting method used by religious cults. First they take the person away from all familiar surroundings. Then they starve him. or her. to lower their resistance. The person begins to feel disorientated . and might start hallucinating. leaving him vulnerable to suggestion. It's not long until they experience revelation. enlightenment. Standard brainwashing techniques. It won't work on me. I'm too strong. I have a good sense of reality. I'm too strong.

I came to hearing the Rat's voice. I didn't realize I had passed out. The Rat was telling me some more of Kurtan's history. He finished by saying, "Let evil beware!"

Another man brought me some food and spooned it into my mouth. It is never enough. The food tastes horrible. I think they put something in it. who cares? I am starving and devour everything they feed me.

Licking my lips afterward to make sure I get everything. The men leave and take the torches with them. The blackness closes in and I pass out again.

The guard's office in Amphipolis.

". and that's been around ten days ago now." Gabrielle finished.

"Is this the first time she's left you for an extended period of time?" the guard asked without looking at her.

"She's left for a day or two at a time. but never anything like this. And she's always told me when she left. She would always send word to me. one way or another!"

"Gabrielle, isn't it?" She nodded and he continued, "Gabrielle, do you realize how many missing person reports we have? Come here. look out there. What do you see?" The guard took the bard to the window and pointed out. "Well?"

"I don't see anything." she began.

"There's nobody out there. At this time of night we should be having several reports of fights and there should be several whores out there. It should be packed out there." He sighed and sat down again, leaving Gabrielle to continue staring out the window. Another guard walked into the room with a pile of papers and dumped them on the older guard's desk.

"How many does that make it?" the older guard asked wearily.

"Over 100." The young man answered and continued, "I've been doing some checking into those reports. Came up with some interesting stuff."

"Like what?"

"Almost all of them have committed some crime and get this most of the people who reported them missing are criminals too!" the younger guard said.

The older guard sighed and walked to the window again.

"It's got to be really bad out there if the criminals are coming to us for help. Something very scary is going on out there."

I was tired of hearing the same old stories. I should have known better. I should have kept my mouth shut. The Rat was telling me another story, about how some settlers in the area had seen someone approach them. I couldn't help it.

"Let me guess, it was the big bad Kurtan, right?" That couldn't have been my voice. it sounded so weak. so tired.

"She has no respect for the word! We tell her the parables and she laughs! We must punish her blasphemy! She must learn the error of her ways!" The Rat raised an iron poker. it was glowing dull red. He raised it close to my face and I could feel the heat coming from it. My tunic was ripped off my body and he jabbed the poker deep into my belly. I screamed and before I passed out again, I heard the Rat give orders for the wound to be taken care of. The last thing I remember was a burning desire to kill the scrawny rat-faced bast.

I was awoken by a female voice. at first I thought maybe it was Gabrielle. but it turned out to be just another demon here to torment me.

"Isadorus was my master. I worked hard for him for over two years." Her voice was soft and I felt somewhat comforted by it. I looked at her and saw a thick veil covering her face.

"He accused me of stealing from him. I told him he was wrong, but he wouldn't listen to me and pulled out his dagger." That's when she lifted the veil from her face. I was horrified. Her face was slashed almost beyond recognition. one eye was gouged out and her nose was almost cut off. She lowered the veil again and turned away.

"That man will never harm another woman. He has paid for his heinous act." Kurtan was back.

"You. you murdered him?" I could barely hear my voice now. I knew I couldn't hold out much longer.

"We executed him. It was the right thing to do."

Kurtan spoke with soft confidence. Standing there in front of me. he looked like a god.

"no. it's wrong." I was losing it. I had to keep focused.

"What would you have us do? Allow the animal to run free to perhaps kill next time?"

"guards. should have gone to the guards." my voice was growing weaker .

"They would have simply given him a lecture and allowed him to go free." His voice was strong .

". no." I tried to protest. but what was I protesting? He was right and I knew it. There were many times when the criminals I had tracked down and brought to justice were simply set free and the animals would laugh in my face as they walked away.

"Xena, you know as well as I that the law is only for the rich. The poor and unfortunates are allowed to suffer. How many vile lowlifes have you brought to justice only to watch them be set free? Set free to take over the streets! The criminals have taken over the world!" He was right. why didn't I see before? I looked at him again and his eyes glowed with a brilliant light.

"Every vile act imaginable runs rampant in this city! The guards can no longer handle it! We must help these people turn away from their evil deeds! This is not a choice they can make on their own. that is why I have chosen you to help me!" I was chosen by the Kurtan god? Me? My eyes widened as I looked at him. there was a light all around him! I saw the god . in all his glory! I wanted to help him!

"Let the glory be revealed to you!" Kurtan raised his hands and the light grew more intense. I could feel the light envelop me . it was a warm gentle feeling.

"Xena, you and I are on the same side! The right thing to do would be to join forces! Say the word!" The words sound familiar. I remember another god. a dark god. who loved war. but this god wanted to help. I opened my mouth to speak. but nothing came out. I tried to nod. I closed my eyes knowing it was useless.

"Cut her down! Give her food and drink! Bring her to me when she is awake!" Kurtan voice rang through my head. I could barely feel the hands lifting me to cut me down. I collapsed into the arms of the other worshippers. I could feel the ground under me and could feel myself drift off again.

"Come on! Get up!" The Rat! Everytime he shook my shoulder, a jolt of lightning passed through my body. He was holding something up to my lips. food. he stuck a dirty finger into my mouth and forced it open. I could taste the same disgusting gruel they had been feeding me for the past couple of weeks. months. years. how long have I been here anyway? I swallowed everything they gave me . they only give me enough to keep me alive. I could feel a liquid being poured into my mouth. I swallowed instinctively. It burned my throat and I felt nauseous. I gagged on the foul liquid. I felt hands drag me to my feet and reach under my arms to help support me. I tried to walk but my legs wouldn't obey. I was dragged down a dark hallway to a door. the door looked familiar. but I didn't know from where. The door opened and I was dragged inside. This room was very well lit and my eyes started to tear from the painful light. I opened and closed them several times until they had adjusted to the brightness. Kurtan was in the back of the room wearing a large cloak that seemed to move of its own accord.

"Xena, do you wish enlightenment?" His voice was soft . soothing. I nodded my head and watched his hands slowly emerge from the within the folds of the cloak. They threw open the cloak in a grand gesture and I fell to my knees. I could see everything! The creation of the world. the birth of the Greek gods. my own life. as well as everyone else's! The light grew in intensity until it blinded me and I closed my eyes to block out the painful light. I heard Kurtan speak softly.

"Take her away. She has seen the light."

I don't remember how I got here. in this alley. but I know that I must kill the evil ones. I don't remember how I can fight as well as I do. but soon there is a pile of bodies lying around me. another man comes towards me swinging a sword and instinct kicks in and I duck his sword and swing with my own. soon, he too lies at my feet, his blood spilling out onto the rough ground . There are only a few people left standing in the carnage. blood is everywhere. but that is the cost of destroying evil.

"Gather the dead and let's go!" The Rat told the rest of us.

"Why do we carry away the dead?" I had been out on several missions and our dead had always been taken back to the dungeons.

"So that the evil ones can be condemned to hell. The true believers who have died here will be taken to Kurtan so that he may put them in a place of honor by his side."

"But." I had so many more questions.

"Enough! Let's go!" The Rat walks ahead and pushes some of the slower worshippers to make them move faster. I begin to follow but smell something good. something that I can vaguely remember. FOOD!

I look into one of the side rooms and see a huge banquet laid out. I can barely restrain myself as I run to the table and grab a drumstick. I had just taken a bite and was ready to swallow when I heard a voice behind me.

"Drop it!" I drop the turkey leg without question and swallow the piece I had in my mouth, hoping he didn't notice.

"This food may be poisoned! You'll be fed when you get back. Now move it!" I nodded and looked longingly at the food before I glanced at Rat's face and walked out of the room. I don't like him, but I obey him because Kurtan speaks through him. I can vaguely remember resisting Kurtan at first. I can't remember why. it was so foolish of me to resist. But now I'm part of his holy family. We return to the dungeon and the Rat turns to me.

"Sit over there until someone comes for you."

"Where's Kurtan?" I wondered what Kurtan did when we were on missions.

"He's busy. You'll see him later." The Rat shoved me to the side and I sat watching him. I really didn't like him! How I would love to just wrap my hands around his scrawny little .. NO! I shouldn't be thinking that! Kurtan wouldn't like it and I don't want to make Kurtan angry.

"What are you looking at?" The Rat growled.

"Nothing." I replied and looked down, away from his hateful gaze.

"Good! Why don't you think about the glory of Kurtan!"

He kicked me hard before he walked away and through a doorway. I heard a lock click into place after he closed the door. Lock. a vision of a handsome man. with dark hair and a goatee. he was king. of something. I can't remember. I look at the door where the Rat disappeared. Part of me wants to strike out. I would love to kick in a few of the Rat's teeth! I smiled as I thought of this. but I don't do it. I know the truth. but why do I feel bad? It feels like part of me is missing. but I can't remember what. I have been given the wonderful gift of enlightenment. To turn my back on that would be a sin! To turn my back on Kurtan would mean certain death! Hell's fire and agony would be my reward for doubting Kurtan! Fire. I can see a hot poker. Damn! It's so hard to remember! Maybe it's because I'm always so hungry. my stomach grumbles so loud I can't think. Almost feels like I've been drugged. drugged? Is that why the food tastes so weird? I can almost remember. the demon. Kurtan. Kurtan the demon? No. I can't think clearly.

"Hey, Xena!" The Rat had returned.

"Come on, Xena. We've got a job to do." A job.. whose job.

"Kurtan's work?" I was still weak and didn't feel well.

"Of course. There is an enemy of Kurtan. He wants you to take care of him." I nodded weakly and stumbled to my feet.

Outside the castle.

"Are you sure she's in there?" Gabrielle asked doubtfully.

The old castle in front of her was covered in ivy and filth. The walls looked like they were ready to collapse. The stench of human filth reached her and she covered her face with a piece of cloth.

"Get used to the smell. We'll have to go in there if we plan to rescue her." The man said beside her. "Time to get our make-up on."

Gabrielle nodded and reached down to put on her wig and apply some face paint. She glanced at the man next to her and smiled as he was almost totally unrecognizable. She'd seen him do this before, but it still amazed her at how skillful he was at changing his appearance.

"How do I look, Autolycus?" she asked.

He shook his head and added some more charcoal to her face and hair. After a few minutes of adjusting and smudging, he looked at her closely and nodded.

"It'll do. We should only be in there a few minutes at the most. And remember to slur your speech! We don't want to draw attention to ourselves." He took a deep breath and sighed. "Are you ready then? Okay, let's go."

Gabrielle nodded and followed him into the abandoned castle. She remembered her last visit to the city guards, they still had no information so she decided to call in some help. She knew Autolycus was in the next town and that he had some feelings for Xena. He responded to her summons and when she explained the situation to him, he willingly agreed to help her find her best friend. They had watched the city streets for days before picking up the trail of several vigilantes that had just killed a man for selling drugs in the street. The trail led here and they had watched the place for several days before they saw Xena leave with a group of filthy people. She was poorly dressed and scrawny looking. She shuffled along with the others, without looking up. Gabrielle wanted to run and help her friend but Autolycus had pulled her down and made her wait.

"She looks like she's drugged. If it wasn't for the fact that I know her, I would almost swear that wasn't her!" Autolycus has said and Gabrielle had noticed the thief discretely wipe a tear away from his cheek. They were going to follow the group, but there was very little shelter and Autolycus was worried about getting caught. So they waited. until now.

They walked inside the dismal heap of bricks and glanced around cautiously. Several vagrants were lying about the ground, some were barely conscious and didn't look up as they passed. Autolycus bent down and shook the shoulder of one man. The man looked at the thief with empty eyes.

"Where's Xena?" The thief asked in a raspy voice.

"On a job." Came the weak reply.

"Great." Autolycus stood up and motioned to Gabrielle.

Together they made their way back outside to their hiding place.

"What do we do now? Do we go after her?" Gabrielle asked.

"We have to. The way she looked yesterday, she can't last much longer in there." Autolycus said in a firm voice.

The two adventurers followed the trail of Xena and her captor across half the city until they finally saw a small rat-faced man and Xena standing at the corner of a building.

"There he is! You must destroy the evil one!" The Rat spoke softly, urgently.

I looked at the man who I was to kill and thought I recognized him. but he kept changing. One moment he was a friend of my mother's . and the next he was a demon. friend. demon. I shook my head to try to clear it and suffered a wave of nausea. I gripped my sword as firmly as I could and stepped away from the building towards the person. He turned toward me and smiled. or was that a sneer?

"Xena! We've been so worried about you! Come with me! Your mother has been worrying herself sick over you. Gabrielle has sent for a friend of yours. Autolycus, I think it was. They've been looking everywhere for you! They'll be overjoyed to see you again." I let him ramble on. I was right in front of him when I raised my sword. The look of fear on his face made me pause. what was I doing? This is my friend! He knows Gabrielle and Autolycus. I lowered my sword and backed away. I wasn't sure what to do.

"Xena! What are you doing? Kill him!" The Rat's voice came from behind me.

"But. he's my friend. he knows Gabrielle. he's not a threat to Kurtan." I tried to explain to the Rat.

"He's a demon! If you don't kill him, then I will!" the Rat ran out from behind me, knocking me aside and tried to attack the man.

"No! Stop!" I tried to stop him. but someone else got there ahead of me. Someone with long hair and someone else. I look at them confused. I think I know them. they look familiar. The two people ran to attack the Rat, but he scuttled toward me and grabbed my arm.

"Xena! Let's go!" I knew that voice, she was my best friend once. a long time ago. in another life. The Rat slashed her arm and drew blood.

"NO!" I screamed and leapt at the Rat. I hit him as hard as I could and he fell to the ground, unconscious.

"Good work, Xena! Come on! Let us help you get back to your mother's." The female said.

I shook my head and tried to get away. but she kept grabbing at me. trying to stop me. I lashed out and she backed away. I could see the confusion that was written on her face. like it was written on mine. I backed away from them and finally turned and ran. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew I had to get somewhere to cool off. I passed a butcher shop in the next street and crashed the door open. Food!

Everywhere I looked. there was food. several dried meats were hanging from the ceiling and trays of cooked meat were lying on the counter. I dug my hands into the cooked meats and stuffed them into my mouth. what heaven! The food was like ambrosia to me! I grabbed some more cooked meat and devoured it. several of the trays were empty when I grabbed some of the hanging meat and ate that as well. I ate until I could eat no more and my head began to clear. I was able to remember more and more. The two people in the street were Gabrielle and Autolycus! My friends! The man I was about to kill was my mother's best friend! Someone who she has romantic interests in, if I am not mistaken. I left the butcher shop and wandered into the early morning streets. I didn't know where I was going, but I just wanted some peace and quiet. to remember some more. and figure out what I was to do now.

In the Amphipolis Gaol.

"Kurtan is acting as some kind of god. He has gathered all the homeless in the city and keeps them drugged. At first he sent them out to kill the criminals, but then he wanted to start killing everyone he could find."

The guards stared unbelieving at the rat-faced man sitting before them. The old guard sighed and rubbed his chin.

"So you want me to believe that a bunch of homeless people have killed all the criminals? Why should I believe that? And what has Xena got to do with this?"

"You should see what he has them do! They believe he's their savior and they're willing to do anything he tells them to. As for Xena, Kurtan wanted the challenge of trying to converting her. He did a pretty good job too, if ya ask me! If it weren't for those two," he nods his head in the direction of Gabrielle and Autolycus, "she would have killed her mother's boyfriend!"

"But. why? Why are you doing this?" Gabrielle asked.

"Kurtan is going to take over Amphipolis! You can't stop him." The rat-faced man sneered.

"We'll see about that!" Autolycus retorted.

Somehow I wound up just outside of Amphipolis. I feel awful! My head is reeling and my stomachs on fire. I throw up the meat I ate earlier and lay down. My whole body starts to shake, but not from the cold. I'm going through withdrawal. I close my eyes hoping it's over soon.

A few hours later I feel better. My head is clearer and I can remember almost everything. For the past month, I have been a prisoner of Kurtan. his slave. I have killed again. Kurtan drugged. tortured. brainwashed me. He broke me. That's never happened before. I wonder what I should do now. I want to run to my mother's and hide away. forever. But if I do that, he'll win. I can't allow that. My only choice is to confront him. I might be killed. but it's better than living the rest of my life in fear. I get to my feet and raise my head. I have to go back. I have to face Kurtan.

I crept back into the dungeon. there were very few people around. I wonder where the others were? As I turn a corner, I can see them. listening to Kurtan. As I look upon Kurtan now, he looks like any other man. Nothing special about him. I crept through the back of the crowd. no one seems to notice me. That's good. With everyone enthralled with Kurtan's speech, I should be able to creep around without any interference.

Near the back of the dungeon, I saw a door that had a padlock on it. I grabbed a nearby brick and smashed the lock open. The door swung open and my jaw dropped as I saw the contents of the room. The bedchambers of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, were not as plush as what I saw before me! I wasn't sure what I expected. but this sure wasn't it! I walked in and closed the door behind me. The bed had the softest velvet pillows. and oriental rugs covered the floor. ornately carved chests, trimmed in gold were at the foot of the bed. gold statues. Kurtan had amassed a fortune in this one small room!

What a con man! Kurtan fooled everyone! He turned innocents into vicious killers. and he did it all with drugs and poor people! Amazing! I can't wait to see the expression on Kurtan's face when the guards grab him. Shouldn't be too difficult to clear this old castle out. I'll bring the guards down first thing tomorrow morning. I can't wait to see Gabr.

"What a shame! She was such a good worshipper. Oh well, take her down to my dining room. I'll take care of her later." Kurtan said as he licked his lips.

"She was just too strong-willed." An old man said.

"She will make for good feasting. I can't wait!" Kurtan grinned evilly.

I came too in a passage of the castle I had not been before. My hands were tied behind me. I try to walk and they allow me to walk behind the leaders.several others were walking behind me. I follow them for what seems like ages. I am thankful for the length of the trip. the longer we walk, the clearer my head gets. I need to have a clear head. these men plan to kill me.

They underestimate my strength. I'm no longer the drugged slave they once knew. We turn a corner and begin to follow an underground river. that's when I attack. My hands may be tied behind my back, but I still have my feet. and I make full use of them! I kick back and knock three of the men down behind me.

The two men in front turn and raise daggers. One of them brings his dagger down, aiming for my chest. but I turn and he slices through the ropes that tie my hands instead. I snap my wrists and the ropes fall off. I grin at them and they back away. I know there's too many of them and I'm still too weak. I rush the two men in front and knock them down. Glancing behind me, I could see the others rush forward and know I have no other choice. I leap into the river and dived. I swam as hard as I could and finally surfaced for air. I could hear the men behind me yelling and cursing each other. I decided to follow the river and hoped it would lead outside. The waters were ice cold and I was beginning to lose feeling in my hands and feet. I knew I had to get out of the water as soon as I could.

"Did we get her? Where's her body?" one of the men asked.

"Who cares? She's gone now. Let's go." Another answered.

"But Kurtan wanted to eat." the first man began.

"Forget Kurtan!" The second man said and began to walk back the way they came.

The group followed him, except for two individuals. They looked at each other and without a word dived into the frigid waters. They swam quickly, stopping to listen every few minutes. After swimming for a while, they stopped.

"Xena! Xena!" a female voice called. After listening for a moment a deep male voice joined in.

They continued to swim with the current and calling out every few minutes. Neither noticed the current picking up speed. They didn't notice the roar that gradually grew louder, until it was too late.

"I think we'd better get out of here. I don't like the sound of that." The female said.

"There's nothing to grab onto! Gabrielle, can you ." the man's voice ended in a scream as the two friends went over the edge of an underground waterfall. They landed in a deep pool and surfaced, treading water desperately.

"Autolycus? Are you okay?" Gabrielle called.

"Right here, Gabrielle. I'm fine, what about you?" The thief returned.

"I'm fine. I can't see anything though." She answered.

"Neither can I, but I can sure smell that stench!" Autolycus said in a disgusted voice.

"Hey, I can almost feel the bottom here. It's shallower. Follow the sound of my voice." Gabrielle said.

"Right behind you, Sunshine! I wonder if Xena made it this far?" Autolycus responded.

I could hear the voices. I knew who they were. and I tried answering. but I was so cold and weak. my voice didn't carry far. I can hear them now. they were close. Would they hear me this time? Should I even bother? Maybe it's better if they never found me. Why would they want me? If I was broken once, it could happen again. Next time it could cost me more than just a broken spirit. it could cost me my friends.

"Xena!" She was close. I opened my mouth to answer.

"Xena!" I knew him. I loved him. and thought he loved me. at one time.

I felt a tear slide down my cheek.

".here." I called weakly. My voice was barely audible. I'm sure they didn't hear me.

"I think I heard her! Over here!" Gabrielle was almost on top of me. I could hear her tripping on the uneven footing.

"This is disgusting! What are we walking on? Garbage? Xena! Where are you?" I smiled as I heard Autolycus grumbling to himself. It's a good thing they didn't know what they were walking on.

I heard someone fall near me and seconds later a scream echoed through the cave. It was Gabrielle.

"Bodies! Lots of them! That what the stench is! Xena, where are you? Answer me!" Gabrielle sounded frantic.

".over here. Gabrielle." I called out as loud as I could and soon felt her soft hands gingerly touching my body. I grabbed her hands and soon felt her arms hugging me close. I cringed as she touched my wounds.

"Over here Autolycus! I've found her! Xena, do you know the way out of here?" I shook my head and then realized that she couldn't see it.

"No. but I think the tunnel goes deeper. Maybe if we follow it, we'll get to the surface." I wasn't sure if it would or not. but that was the only thing I could think of. I felt other hands on me and reached out to touch them. Autolycus. I let my hands follow his arms and eventually to his face. I recognize the goatee and well-trimmed mustache.

"Let's get you out of here!" he said. and it was the sweetest thing I had ever heard him say.

We follow the tunnels for what seemed like an eternity. we moved slowly so as not to get hurt.

"Are you okay? We can rest if you need to." Gabrielle voice came from ahead of me.

"No, I'm alright. Still going through withdrawal from the drugs they gave me, but I'm okay." I answered. I felt sick to my stomach but I wasn't going to tell her that. I thought I could hear something ahead of us in the tunnel. it sounded like someone whistling.

"Do you hear that?" Autolycus whispered.

"Let me lead." I whispered. I didn't want my friends to get hurt. I had a bad feeling in my gut. I had no idea what we'd find at the end of this tunnel, but I knew it wouldn't be good. I felt Gabrielle move past me. I was now in the lead with Gabrielle behind me holding on to my waist. I moved slowly down the tunnel and it gradually began to slope upwards. I could see a crevice with light coming from it a short way ahead of me. I inched to the opening and looked in. I covered my mouth in shock.

Below me in a deep pool of blood was Kurtan. He was naked and alone. His face rippled as though it were changing shape, which it soon did. In a matter of minutes I saw Kurtan change from the human shape I was accustomed to seeing him in to a dark red demonic shape. He scooped handfuls of the blood and drank it as though it were fine wine. I could see pieces of human remains floating in the pool and he casually picked these pieces up and sucked the blood off them and then delicately ate them. I could feel Gabrielle and Autolycus looking over my shoulders and glancing at them saw they were just as disgusted as I was. I looked back at the demon and gasped as he raised his head to look straight at me. I could feel his gaze burn deep into my soul.

"Blood, Xena, bathe in a pool of warm blood once a moon cycle and you will live forever! Care to join me?" the demon grinned and licked his lips.

"Let's get out of here!" I said quietly to the others.

"There is no where you can run to. No where you can hide. I can find you anywhere. But I do enjoy a little game of cat and mouse every now and then. If you take the first tunnel to your left, you will reach the surface about a half-mile from Amphipolis. I will allow you to reach the surface before I come after you. I look forward to tasting your flesh!" We could hear Kurtan's laughter echo throughout the tunnels. A short distance down the tunnel we found the turn-off that Kurtan mentioned. I stopped.

"What do we do now?" Gabrielle asked.

"Well, either we can go back and deal with big and ugly or we can go this way and ." Autolycus started.

"No." I interrupted, knowing what I had to do. I knew Autolycus and Gabrielle would have a better chance of escape if they weren't with me.

"There's another way. I'm going back." My voice was firm, but I was wishing someone would stop me.

"Xena, you can't! You're in no shape to do this alone!" Gabrielle stopped me.

"Gabrielle's right. We can't let you do this alone. that's why we're going back with you." Autolycus sounded scared. I didn't blame him. None of us knew what we were getting into.

"You don't have to. I don't want you to get hurt because of me." I loved them both all the more for offering. I knew they wouldn't leave me.

"Don't be silly, Xena. We're with you to the end, whatever that may be. So, what should we do now?" Gabrielle asked.

"We go back. I can't allow him to continue killing. It could have been one of you that I killed next." I said.

"Lead the way, demon slayer! We're right behind you!"

Autolycus always had a snappy comment no matter what kind of situation he found himself in. It felt good to know that some things haven't changed.

I led them back to the crevice where we saw Kurtan and looked cautiously into the chamber below. It was empty. Autolycus attached a line to solid-looking rock and we lowered ourselves to the floor below. The pool of blood was lower than before and we could see the bodies hanging upside down above it, still dripping blood into the pool. Some of the bodies looked half-eaten. All had the heads removed and a quick look at the ground around the pool showed the heads of the victims, with the eyes and brains removed. Gabrielle turned away, covering her mouth and Autolycus looked like he was fighting a losing battle with his stomach himself. I recognized several of the heads as people who I killed. I closed my eyes and fought a wave of nausea. I opened them again and tried not to breathe the foul air. I looked around quickly and saw a door halfway across the room.

"Come on! The door's over there." I said to the others and started making my own way to the door.

I put my finger to my lips and motioned the others to stop as I continued walking silently to the door. I laid my ear upon it and listened intently for a few seconds before I heard anything. The shuffling of feet and the mutterings of outcasts gave the ambush away. I pointed to the door and counted down from three on my fingers. We threw the door open and began attacking before the outcasts knew what happened.

We finally broke through the lines and started to run. The horde followed us through the maze of tunnels and turned several corners, trying to lose the outcasts.

We finally had to slow our pace because of me. The tunnels were lit here and although I tried to hide how much pain I was in, it showed clearly on my face and Gabrielle had us slow down. I was worried the horde might catch up with us, we could still hear them behind us. But for the moment at least it seemed we were relatively safe. as safe as you could be in a viper's nest. We walked down a series of tunnels that I think I recognized. As we rounded another corner, I gasped. I remember this place! The ropes hanging from the ceiling. the stale air. this was were they took me after they captured me. Vivid images raced through my mind. the beatings. the starvation. the stories. the hot poker. the Rat. Kurtan. My friends let me be for a moment, but the sounds of pursuit were getting closer and I knew we had to leave. We walked a little further and rounded another corner and saw another mob of vagrants coming towards us. I saw a tunnel off to the side and we ran down it. We could hear the sounds behinds us growing louder and we tried to hurry, but I wasn't as fast as the others. I was slowing them down. I knew it. so did they. If it wasn't for me, they could have escaped this nightmare by now!

"Go on! I'll catch up!" I waved my hand to encourage them to leave me behind but they looked at each other and ran back to me and each put an arm around my waist and to help me. We moved a little faster, but not fast enough. I could hear our pursuers closing in. We turned another corner and came face to face with a group that were waiting for us.

"Guess we stand and fight." Gabrielle said and prepared herself.

"It's been fun, Xena. Hey, at least we get to go out in style! Alright you circus clown rejects, let's party!" Autolycus said grimly.

Gabrielle and Autolycus didn't waste any time and attacked quickly. The thugs soon surrounded them and more were coming from behind us. We were lost.

"Xena! We could use some help here!" Autolycus called out.

The derelicts behind us were almost upon us and I still hadn't raised a hand to help my friends. How could I help? I was barely able to stand on my own two feet. A group of thugs grabbed me from behind and I felt like I was being buried alive under a mountain of human flesh. I didn't try to defend myself from the vicious kicks and punches. I looked up and saw Gabrielle and Autolycus being slowly overwhelmed.

"Xena! We need your help!" I heard Gabrielle's plea for help and felt something stir within me. She was bleeding from several cuts on her head and body.

Autolycus wasn't faring much better. His clothing was being torn off and his chest was bare. I could see several cuts and gashes bleeding freely on his well-toned body. He glanced at me and I could see the fear and desperation in his eyes.

"Do something! Anything!" I could hear his voice and eyes reaching out.

"Xena please!" Gabrielle screamed out before she was lost to view.

I felt the stirrings within me grow stronger and now I realized what it was. anger. How dare these worthless creatures hurt my friends! I raised my arms and voice in defiance and threw off three of the scum at once.

Gabrielle and Autolycus, encouraged by my actions, redoubled their efforts and managed to fight off several of the men.

"Get her! She must die!" I barely heard the man's shout in my anger. Two men behind me grabbed my arms and tried to hold me but I flipped over their heads and brought my arms together causing the two to knock their heads together. I grinned savagely and attacked a third man to my side. With a swift kick to his sternum, he was lying on the ground and rolling around in agony. I grabbed the hair of two more men and smacked their heads together viciously. I felt the adrenaline rush through my blood and I felt incredible! The men were starting to back away from me now, but I wouldn't let them go. They had to be punished for their crimes! They all had to be punished! I lashed out at several men and they fell to my feet unconscious. Gabrielle and Autolycus had backed away from me. Good thing, I wouldn't want to hurt them accidentally. I found a knife on the floor of the tunnel and grabbed it. Most of the men who had attacked us were now lying on the floor either dead or unconscious. I saw a few scattered survivors trying to retreat and I screamed and ran at them, managing to catch one before they ran off. I held the man's head tight as I sliced his neck open and felt the warm blood run over my fingers. I dropped the body and almost collapsed myself. I felt suddenly exhausted and started to sink to the ground and felt strong hands helping me to my feet again. Who.? Oh yeah, Gabrielle and Autolycus.

"Let's get you out of here." Gabrielle said softly.

I could almost smell her fear. As the bloodlust subsided, I began to recall more of the last few minutes.

"Wow! You really kicked their butts. But we've got to get out of here, I think I can hear more of them coming." I barely heard his voice as I could feel myself fading again. I closed my eyes and allowed the blackness to take me. and that's when the dreams came.

I was at the same house again. the one that didn't belong in Amphipolis. I entered into the dark house and walked slowly down the hallway. I don't want to be here! I have to leave! Gabrielle. my mother. they're expecting me. I want to go now. I am drawn to the door at the end of the hallway, but as I reached out to open it, it was torn apart and I could see familiar faces on the other side. mother. Gabrielle. Joxer. Autolycus. Callisto. other friends, family and enemies.

"We're very disappointed in you, Xena!" my mother moaned.

"Now you're just like me!" Callisto grinned wildly.

"Why did you let us down?" Gabrielle cried.

"Xena the fighter. Used to be mightier. Now she's just." Joxer was singing.

"Stop! Please stop!" I begged and Joxer stopped singing mid-verse.

"What did you expect me to do?" I could feel the tears stinging my eyes. Why couldn't they just let me be? I'm not a god for crying out loud! How can I fight a demon?

"We thought you were a responsible citizen!" Autolycus said.

"We thought you would never give up!" Gabrielle added.

"You let that monster beat you! You didn't even try!" Hercules accused.

"You let Kurtan take over Amphipolis! You didn't try to stop him!" My mother said.

"No! I tried! You don't understand!" I pleaded with them to understand. Why are they blaming me? They weren't even there! They don't know how long I tried to fight him!

"You must go back!" My mother said firmly.

"You must defeat him!" Hercules agreed.

"You must save Amphipolis!" Callisto said.

"It is your duty! You must go back!" Gabrielle said.

"You must go back!" It was like a chant that echoed throughout my brain. I couldn't take it anymore!

"Stop! I'll go back! I'm going back!" I screamed out in defiance.

"Xena? Are you okay?" I could hear a woman's voice, soft and soothing.

".going back." I mumbled.

"Xena? It's okay. You're at your mother's house. You're safe." Gabrielle sounded like an angel.

I struggled to sit up and groaned as my head felt like Hephaestus' anvil. I rubbed my temples and took deep breaths, hoping the headache would go away, knowing it was useless.

"I have to go back." My voice sounded shaky so I said it again and my voice sounded a little stronger.

"Xena, what are you talking about? You can't go back there! If you do, they'll kill you!" Gabrielle protested.

"She's right, Xena. You don't stand a chance if you go back. alone. I'll go with you." Autolycus said.

"You can't be serious! The two of you will be killed if you go back." Gabrielle protested and then she saw the look on our faces and sighed, "But if you are going to do it, I'll go with you. But I want you to get one more night of rest before we do, deal?"

I knew there was no use in arguing with her and nodded. She smiled grimly and held some broth to my lips. I swallowed the warm liquid and suddenly realized how hungry I was. I finished all the broth and wanted more, but Gabrielle shook her head and helped me lie down again.

"You can have a little more later. I want to make sure you can keep this down. Now I want you to get some rest." She said firmly and gently washed my face with a cool damp cloth. I didn't realize how much my face hurt until she tenderly placed the cloth on my forehead. I winced a little but let her continue. In a few minutes she left and motioned for Autolycus to join her. As they left the room, Gabrielle closed the door, but I could still hear their voices standing just on the other side.

"What are we going to do? We can't let her go back there! She'll be killed, you know that!" Gabrielle whispered fiercely.

"She would have gone with or without our help! You know that! At least this way, she has our help!" Autolycus answered.

I could hear Gabrielle sigh softly.

"I know. I'm sorry Autolycus. I'm just so worried about her! She's in no shape to fight! You saw how skinny she is and she's still reacting to those drugs Kurtan gave her. And that brings up another matter, Kurtan. What is he? How can we fight a monster like that?" I could tell that Gabrielle was terrified. I don't blame her, I was too.

"Have you forgotten who you're talking about? She's been through worse than this before and has always come through. Why don't we go have some herb tea? A little chamomile will help you calm down and might help you sleep."

I could hear them leaving. Gods, I hope Autolycus was right! For most of my life, I've cheated death. I've fought the worst psychos and gods the world had to offer and I've beaten them all. I had begun to think of myself as invincible. But that changed the day Kurtan kidnapped me. After weeks of being chained, beaten, tortured, starved and drugged, he broke me. Others had tried to break me before and had failed. I wonder if it can all be put back together. Perhaps the healing power of fire can make things right again. the purifying fire of battle. I thought again of the demon bathing in a pool of human blood and felt the stirrings within me start again.

"Prepare, Kurtan! Xena is coming for you!" I growled softly in the growing dusk.

I closed my eyes and drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

I awoke a few hours later when a hand gently shook my shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw the worried face of my mother above me.

"Xena? Gabrielle said to wake you and make sure that you get some more broth. Are you feeling better?" she asked worriedly.

"Yeah. Kinda hungry though, any chance to get some real food?" I sat up and was happy to discover that my headache was almost completely gone.

"I've got some stew here." My mother smiled and handed me a bowl of hot stew with some bread. As I began to eat, she laughed a little and continued, "You must be feeling better. You always had a healthy appetite."

"Where's Gabrielle and Autolycus?" I asked between bites.

"Xena, don't talk with your mouth full!" she chided. "Gabrielle and Autolycus are sleeping. It's been a long day for them. and for you. You should lie down and get some more rest. You'll need it for tomorrow." She finished softly.

I looked at her face and was troubled to see the pain and fear in her eyes. I wish I could comfort her, but I knew the only comfort she wanted would be for me to stay home. But I couldn't do that and she knew it. She helped me lie down and washed the various cuts on my body.

"It's late. You should get some more sleep. Gabrielle will wake you in the morning and help you get ready. Good night." She kissed my cheek and got up to leave. She paused at the door and looked back. "Good luck."

"Thanks. 'Night mom." I answered her and tried to smile encouragement at her. She smiled back and then closed the door softly behind her. I sighed and closed my eyes.

It felt like only minutes had passed when I felt another hand gently shaking my shoulder.

"Wake up Xena. It's time to go." It was Gabrielle. She shook my shoulder again and I slowly opened my eyes. She was dressed in her normal outfit and I noticed her staff leaning by the door. She helped me to stand up and get dressed in my leather armor. My body ached from the recent fight, before but I managed to follow her into my mother's dining room where the table was laid for breakfast. Autolycus was sitting and eating some fruit. He looked up as we entered the room and smiled.

"Ready to boogey?" He grinned but his eyes were deadly serious. He knew what we were getting into. I returned his grin and nodded. I winced as a jolt of sheer pain burst in my skull and sat down on a chair.

"Xena, we don't have to do this. We can tell the guards about the tunnels and." Gabrielle started, but I cut her off with a look.

"No. No one else can do this. I have to kill Kurtan." I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was scared and worried about me. "You don't have to go."

"I'm going with you." She gave me such a look of defiance that I had to smile.

"I'm going too. After all, someone has to watch your backsides. and what lovely backsides they are!" Autolycus grinned, trying to lighten the mood.

When we finished eating, Gabrielle handed me my chakrum, which I attached to my hip and then my sword. It was a lot heavier than I remembered. how did I ever manage to swing this heavy thing around? I returned the sword into the scabbard on my back.

"I found them shortly after you disappeared and brought them back. Your armor was lying nearby." She explained.

Gabrielle grabbed her staff and Autolycus picked up several small throwing knives and hid them in various places on his body, then he picked up a short sword and sheathed it in a scabbard hung on his side. We were ready.

It was still dark when we left my mother's house and made our way to the broken-down castle outside of town. Gabrielle had told me earlier that she told the guards. They would be here at daybreak to destroy the ruins and take prisoner any who resisted. They wouldn't get Kurtan though. he was mine!

The air was chilly when we arrived and the sky was a little lighter than it had been when we left. Some of the brighter stars were still visible and the moon was low on the horizon. I could see my breath fog in front of me.

There was no sign of movement near the dark ruins and we drew closer. Still nothing. We cautiously entered the ruins and still saw no one. We followed the well-worn trail into the well-lit tunnels. It was almost as though they were expecting us. I didn't like this, something was wrong. As we walked, we began to notice that the side tunnels were caved in. We were being herded towards something. an ambush most likely.

"I think you two better turn back. I don't like the looks of this. I don't want you two to get hurt because of me." I tried to persuade them but they both shook their heads with determined looks on their faces. I sighed and nodded, knowing it was useless to argue with them.

We continued on cautiously and turned a corner. I stopped in my tracks and felt Gabrielle and then Autolycus bump into me.

"What's Ro.? Oh . my..god!" Gabrielle whispered in shock as she saw the carnage before her.

"Sweet Olympus!" Autolycus gasped as he, too, saw the horrifying scene that lay before us.

The tunnel was lined with half-eaten, half-decayed corpses hanging by whatever appendage was still attached. The stench of death was thick in the air and it was all I could do to keep from keeling over and losing my breakfast. I could hear Gabrielle behind me losing hers and it sounded like Autolycus was close to losing his as well. There was no way around the bodies. I ducked and weaved my way through the carnage, struggling to keep my footing on the blood-slicked floor. I turned to check on the progress of my friends and saw Gabrielle lose her balance. She swung her arms frantically and instinctively grabbed onto the first thing she could, finally getting her feet under her again. As she looked to see what she grabbed on to, she let out an ear-piercing shriek and scrambled backwards into Autolycus who manage to keep his own balance and catch her as well. She stared in horror at the half-eaten, rotting corpse of a man. The head was barely attached and as the thing slowly turned I could see one eye hanging out.

I made me way back to her and grabbed her hand, helping her through the worst of it. Autolycus made his way through to join us and breathed a sigh of relief.

"I guess that was our welcoming committee." Autolycus said grimly.

"Come on. We're getting closer." I just wanted to get moving again.

I could sense something in the air. it was almost tangible. the smell of anticipation. the tense anticipation that is found in the Roman arenas of death, where men are sent out to face lions or other animals or even other men, like themselves. They were called the pits of death. I was certain that before very long we would be in our own pit of death and I wasn't sure who would come out alive.

I could see the tunnel open up into a large cavern ahead and slowed our pace. I glanced back to the others and saw the tense fear and nervousness plainly written on the faces of my friends. I knew my own face mirrored theirs.

"Xena, are you okay?" Gabrielle asked me softly.

Okay? I had been fooling myself all these years. I had always thought I became the Warrior Princess to fight crime.

"It was a lie. I really did to overcome the fear." I didn't realize I spoke aloud until I heard my own voice.

"Xena?" Gabrielle asked softly and Autolycus put a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

I smiled at them bravely and nodded.

"Xena and Gabrielle are back together!" I said determinedly.

"And they're gonna kick ass!" Autolycus grinned.

"You bet we are!" Gabrielle added.

We entered the large underground cavern.

We walked tall and strong into the cavern, showing everyone there that we weren't afraid. Inside we were all terrified. But to show that now would mean instant death. A few underworlders tried to attack but a quick thrust of my sword and they lie dead at my feet. I had impaled them all with just one stroke. not bad. I almost grinned, but stopped myself. I can't get cocky now.

I looked around the cavern, underworlders were lined up against the walls, some waving torches which threw insane shadows across the walls and floor. Others were simply crouched and waiting. Other than the soft sounds of scuffling, they were quiet. Movement at the opposite end of the cavern caught my attention and I watched as Kurtan walked to the center, smiling confidently and holding a large, ornately carved dagger in his hand. I immediately drew my sword and grabbed my chakrum in my other hand and raised it over my head, ready to throw.

"Welcome Xena! I see you brought your weapons. Good!" Kurtan's voice rang in the underground chamber.

I wasn't prepared for how I would feel when I saw Kurtan again. fear, anger, hatred. all these emotions and more boiled inside of me. I managed to keep them in check for now. barely.

"What do you want from me?" I growled.

"Why, I want you to kill me, Xena. That is what you came here for, isn't it? What are you waiting for?" He stood there with his arms outstretched, holding the dagger out to me.

What was I waiting for? He was right. I did come here to kill him. but not like this. It's up to me to put an end to Kurtan's evil. but am I up to the job? I shook my head, it was too late for self-doubts. I knew this wasn't going to end smoothly. it never does. Facing your fears is one of those things you usually end up doing alone. I glared at Kurtan as I lowered my sword and replaced my chakrum on my hip.

"No. It's over, Kurtan. The city guards will be here soon." I spoke firmly and without emotion.

"Do it, Xena! This is what you've wanted for a long time, isn't it? You have to make me pay for my crimes! Put an end to me! Give me death!" Kurtan had an insane glint in his eye that slowly grew brighter as he continued.

I felt the familiar stirrings inside of me and knew it would be so easy. One throw of the chakrum would end his despicable life once and for all. I could kill the man who broke me. It would end the fears. or would it? I raised my head high and it came to me as I looked on the demon. It was too easy! This is what he had wanted all along!

"No." The word barely left my mouth when he charged me, screaming.

"No! You will not cheat me of my glorious death! You will not take away my martyrdom!" I stepped aside as he lunged at me, slashing at me with his dagger.

I knocked the dagger out of his hand with a quick flick of my wrist and caught it before it could reach the ground. I spun the blade around and rammed it against his throat. I hesitated when the blade pressed against his flesh.

"Do it!" He was begging me to kill him. He actually wants to die.

I raised the dagger high above me head. and threw it away. Kurtan stared at me in disbelief as I dragged him to his feet by his hair.

"Payback's a bitch!" I grinned and felt his face go soft under my fist.

I go to work on him and enjoy the look of pain that crosses his face every time I hit another pressure point. I'm not going for a quick knock out or the easy kill. instead I opt for inflicting as much pain as I can. I concentrate on hitting his pressure points. I want to break him! Just as he broke me! I hope I can forgive myself after this is finished. but right now, I don't give a damn about forgiveness.

I dance around him like a cat, striking out to hit his nerve centers then dancing away quickly. He falls to his knees and I kick him hard in the back and he collapses to the ground. I wrap my hand in his long hair and drag him to his feet again. I let him go and back away a little as he tries to swing at me. I dart forward and knee him between the legs and as he doubles over in pain, I smash my fist into his jaw, feeling it crumple from the force of the blow. I hit him again and again. I can feel his nose crumple under my fist. The blood covers his face as he tries to back away from me. His ribs were the next to go and I could hear the crack clearly even above the growing noise of the crowd.

Around me I can hear his followers growing restless, this wasn't going the way Kurtan had promised and they were unsure what to do. A few men tried to attack me, but Gabrielle and Autolycus took them out quickly and nobody else dared to try another one.

I kicked him deep in his stomach and heard him gasp for breath. As he doubled over again, I kicked him hard in the kneecap and heard a crunching sound as my foot made contact. He crumpled to the ground and put one hand up to protect himself. I allowed him to scuttle away a few feet and then leaped over him the land in front of him and kicked him hard in his face. I saw several teeth fall onto the ground as Kurtan spat some blood out of his mouth. He looked up at me and I could see in his eyes that his spirit had left him.

"Please. no more! I beg you!" he begged for mercy, the same mercy he had denied so many others.

I backed away and allowed him to get to his knees.

"Please. don't hit me. again."

I was not going to give him the death he wanted so much. I was not going to give his followers something to rally behind. I was not going to regret what I had done to him. I've seen what he's done.

".can't take no more." He was still going on.

He's losing it. falling to pieces in front of his followers! There's one problem with creating monsters.

Kurtan had finally gotten to his feet and was backing towards his followers.

"Kill her! Tear her apart!" he shouted to the people lining the walls.

. control is hard to maintain.

"Destroy her!" His followers slowly made their way towards me. I drew my sword, preparing myself for a bloody battle.

.the important thing is to never let them sense fear . or weakness in you. that's a fatal mistake.

The underworlders barely glanced at me . as they passed me by and made their way to Kurtan.

. that's when they turn on you.monsters demand that their creators be strong . monters hate to be duped.

Kurtan smiled at several of the nearest underworlders and raised his beaten and bloody arms to welcome them. I backed away as more and more underworlders gathered around Kurtan.

"My faithful subje. AAAHHHHH!! Stop! What are you doing? Xena, Help!" The underworlders attacked without emotion, tearing his clothes off and scratched and clawed their helpless leader. Kurtan had no chance against his unmerciful followers.

I could hear someone run up to me and knew it was Gabrielle by her soft panting.

"Xena, we have to help him! We can't just leave him there like that! They'll kill him!" I knew she would say that. but I still shook my head.

"It's too late, Gabrielle. There's too many of them and they are too crazed to listen. It's all over." I answered her softly.

We watched quietly as Kurtan was torn to pieces by the blood-thirsty mob. Men, women and children were equally as savage in their attacks. The ground was soon soaked with blood and pieces of flesh flew in every direction.

I turned my back on the horror and walked away. It was over. The guards would be here soon, but I doubt there would anything left of Kurtan by that time. I have little doubt that Kurtan was destroyed. gone forever.

We left the ruins as the guards arrived and never looked back. I'll never forget that one man broke me. but hopefully, as time goes on. I'll be able to replace the horror of the past month with memories of good times and good friends. I put my arm around the shoulders of my two friends and smiled at the rising sun. I'll start with this moment.

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