Story # 3 by The Members of Argo's Stable



This our third story. The individual
parts have not been edited. It is exactly as it was sent to the list.


Feedback may be sent to Taiko (xgfan1@aol.com) and will be forwarded to Argo's Stable.

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena & Gabrielle don't belong to us.
They are the sole property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures.
This story may not be sold or used for profit. Copies of this story may
be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers.

Story 3 - Over The Rainbow??

Part 1   Part 2  Part 3   Part 4  Part 5 Part 6   Part 7  Part 8
Part 9   Part 10  Part 11  Part 12

****************************************************
Part 1 by Purple

“Xeee--na!”  The wind tore the cry from Gabrielle’s lips as she hung on
desperately to the side of the barn door, trying to keep herself from being
blown away as quickly as her words.  Never, never had she seen a storm this
bad.  It had come up so quickly: she and Xena had just reached this small,
out of the way village when the first gusts started.  Now the wind was
pounding the humble houses and outbuildings, whipping the trees to the
ground and sending loose objects flying.  Gabrielle ducked as a milk pail
tumbled past her ear.  She and Xena had been busy, getting the villagers
under cover; now that everyone else was safe Gabrielle was ready to shelter
in this barn, but the warrior was nowhere in sight.  She knew she should get
inside, but she refused to close the door until Xena was there with her.
“Xena!”

Suddenly, like the answer to a prayer, she saw her: striding tall and dark
across the street, figure straight and refusing to bow to the tremendous
force beating against her body.  She met Gabrielle’s eyes and waved a hand
to show she was all right.  Relief flooded Gabrielle’s body, but then she
saw something else:  a huge black column in the sky, heading directly for
them.  She screamed.

There was no way Xena could have heard the scream, not with the way the wind
was lashing her ears; but she saw the expression on Gabrielle’s face, and
looked over her shoulder.  She broke into a run, working hard to keep from
being blown over before she reached the barn.  “Xena, what is it?”
Gabrielle shouted.

“It’s a cyclone, Gabrielle,” Xena shouted back.  She tried to close the barn
door-- the wind tugged it out of her fingers, slamming it against the outer
wall with a resounding thud.  She thought about going after it, then gave up
and gathered the bard under her arm.  They ran to a pile of hay and
collapsed on it, huddling together against the wind whistling in through the
cracks in the wall.  Suddenly there was a tremendous cracking sound, and the
barn tilted to one side.  “Xena, what’s happening?”  Gabrielle cried.

“I don’t know,” she shouted back, but then she looked out the still open
door, and suddenly she did know.  They were airborne.
******************************************************
Part 2 by Gabby Kat

xena started to come to.  her companion was still unconscious and sprawled
out on top of her.  she struggled to get out from under gabrielle without
moving her too much, as she had no way of knowing what injuries the bard may
have sustained.  once xena was free she leaned in close to her friend.
"gabrielle..."

"arghhhhh!!" gabrielle let out a scream into xena's ear as she jumped up from
the pile of hay.  "whoa.  what happened?  are you okay?  wait a minute, am i
okay?  that was..." gabrielle was rambling.

"gabrielle, calm down." xena stood slowly as she cupped her hand over her
right ear, gabrielle's scream was still resonnating off her eardrum.  "we're
both fine.  let's go check on the villagers."

"yeah, the villagers... why are they singing?" gabrielle started for the barn
door.

"huh?  what are you talking about?  what singing?  wait a minute!" xena
started after the bard but not before she opened the barn door and stepped
out into the brilliant sunshine outside.  "what the...?"

"xena.  you wanna explain why there's a bunch of pint-sized centaurs prancing
around this barn?" gabrielle looked on in amazement.

"ding dong..."

"the witch is dead..."

xena looked briefly at gabrielle, then turned her eyes, without moving her
head, toward two colorfully dressed centaurs moving toward them.  they were
laughing and singing and pointing at the corner of the barn just behind
gabrielle.  when xena turned her head to see what had their gleeful attention
she saw the withered figure of a haggard old woman, who actually appeared to
be melting before her eyes.

"oh my... xena look at that woman.  wait a minute!  that's not... xena?!"
gabrielle was shaking her head.

"yup. that's her.  i guess alti's climb up the kharmic ladder was pretty
short."

just then thunderbolts shook the ground and sent the miniature centaurs
stampeeding away from the barn.  the wind gusted and blew leaves and debris
around xena and gabrielle, causing them to huddle together.

"what is it?" gabrielle was trying to yell over the wind.

"i dunno.  i can't see..." xena was trying to focus on a figure forming
before her and her friend.  it was a female and appeared to be human and
full-sized.  once she was fully in vierw, the wind started to settle,
allowing xena and gabrielle to see her clearly.  "oh, for the love of the
gods!  you?!  why won't you just die?"

"xena... i don't think were in greece anymore." gabrielle spoke through a
long and nervous sigh.
*******************************************************
Part 3 by Taiko
 

"Who killed my sister?" yelled the woman that stood before Xena and
Gabrielle.

The bards mouth dropped open. She recognized the face but this woman sure was
dressed funny. Gabrielle turned to Xena, "Xena?" The warrior glanced at
Gabrielle and shrugged her shoulders.

"You!" The woman pointed a figure at Xena, "Did you kill my sister?"

Xena couldn't believe what she was seeing, first miniature Centaurs, then
Alti stuck under the barn and now Callisto dressed in a black cape, black
cone hat with a wide brim and carrying a broom. "Callisto, what are you
talking about?" The warrior asked impatiently.

Before Callisto could answer a bright ball of light appeared and became
larger as it neared the three woman. In a flash a woman with long blond hair
appeared where the ball of light once was.

"Chill, babe," the new arrival said to Callisto.

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and said in unison, "Aphrodite?"

Aphrodite was wearing a long, flowing, see through gown and carrying a wand.
She looked over to Xena and Gabrielle, "You're new in town, huh?"

Callisto, meanwhile, walked over to her dead sister, "The sandals...the
sandals are now mine." She gave an evil laugh as she reached for the ruby
sandals on her dead sisters feet. But before she could touch them they
vanished. "Ahhhhhh!" Callisto shrieked and turned to the others, "What have
you done with the ruby sandals?"

Aphrodite laughed at the woman in black, "They're not for you, Ms. Witch.
There safe now, with the little blonde," she said pointing to Gabrielle's
feet.

Gabrielle gasped as she saw the ruby sandals suddenly appear, replacing her
boots. Xena quickly stepped forward, "All right, that's enough! Someone
better explain what's going on, right now!"

Aphrodite shook her head, "Chill, warrior babe, your friend is fine."

"That's what you think," the witch said, moving closer to Gabrielle, "Give
them back. They're mine! You have little use for them," Callisto pointed her
finger at the sandals but sparks flew from the shoe and knocked her back. She
yelled in pain and frustration.

"I told you they were safe," Aphrodite said with a grin, "now leave before
someone drops a barn on you!" Callisto stepped back with fear in her eyes as
they scanned the sky. Placing herself upon her broom the witch spoke to
Gabrielle, "I'll get you my pretty, and your warrior too!" With an evil laugh
and a wave of her hand, Callisto sent the broom skyward and flew off into the
horizon.

"This is too weird," the bard said while watching the witch fly away.

Xena turned to Aphrodite, "All right, start talking."

"Well, my first suggestion would be to get on your broomstick and fly back
where you came from," Aphrodite stated.

Gabrielle stared at the woman, "Well, we don't have a broom handy. Were in
Tartarus are we?"

"Look kid, you're on the other side of the rainbow. You really don't belong
here. And what do you mean you don't have a broom stick? Are you a good witch
or bad witch?"

The bard shook her head, "I'm not a witch at all."

The woman twirled her wand, thinking, "Bummer. It would definitely speed up
the process."

The warrior couldn't take any more of this, "Look Aphrodite, or whoever you
are, just tell us how to get home!"

Aphrodite thought for a moment, "Well, without a broomstick it's going to be
tough, but..." she paused, lost in thought.

"What?" both Xena and Gabrielle asked.

"Well, you could go see the wizard. I mean, he is a strange dude, but he
should be able to help you get home."

Sensing the warrior's growing frustration, the bard stepped forward, "Fine,
we'll see him. Were is he?"

"Oh that's easy! Just follow the yellow brick road." With a wave of her hand
the centaurs stepped back and Xena and Gabrielle could see a road made of
bright yellow bricks.

Xena was skeptical, "That's it?"

"That's it. It will lead you right to him." Aphrodite said, ushering the pair
to the beginning of the road.

"Fine. Let's go Gabrielle." The warrior started walking. Aphrodite put her
hand on the bard's shoulder, "Listen, that witch is pretty mad at you and
she'll try to get the ruby sandals. Whatever you do, don't take them off."

Gabrielle nodded and headed after Xena.

Xena stopped as the bard caught up to her, "Follow the yellow brick road?"
she said in a disgusted tone.

"Follow the yellow brick road," the bard replied.

Xena gave an exasperated sigh, "I guess we're off to see the wizard..."
*******************************************************
Part 4 by EJK
 
"Xena," Gabrielle sighed. The warrior, knowing her companion as she did, knew what was coming next, and let out a sigh herself.  "We've been following this dang-blasted yellow brick road for hours.  Don't you ever get hungry?  I do, y'know.  I'd even try one of Joxer's creations right now."

With a quick glance at Gabrielle, Xena knew the bard was thinking of her stomach, and the fact that they had missed breakfast.  Lunchtime was drawing near, as Xena could tell by surveying the sky.  The sun was almost directly overhead, and even she admitted she was hearing growling noises from her tummy.

"Hey you," said Xena, somewhat annoyed at her own weakness.  "My stomach takes orders from ME. You should teach yours that trick.  I'm hungry too, but I like to keep myself in check."  That said, the two women continued on their journey.  Realizing she had touched a bad spot for Gabrielle, Xena added, in a much more encouraging voice, "We'll stop when we find some food.  There haven't been too many inns on this road, as you can see.  Tighten your belt a notch.  I'm hungry too."

Suddenly, Gabrielle caught Xena's arm.  "Xena," she whispered gleefully, "there's a fenced off area up ahead.  It looks like the gardens back home.  People fence off areas to show private property.  There's even a man working there.  Let's go ask him if we can buy some food," the Bard suggested hopefully.  "Like you said, there aren't many other options."

"Oh all right," was the reply.  Xena was finding herself more hungry than she cared to show.  "A bit of food would do us good before keeping on this yellow road, which seems to be going nowhere," she thought to herself.

 Her eyes, however, seemed to be playing with her again.  She turned to see jf Gabrielle was seeing the same thing.  Obviously she was, for the next thing she knew, the Bard was tugging nervously on her arm.  "Xena, heh, doesn't that look an awful lot like, heh..."  And before Gabrielle could finish her thought, the figure saw them, waved furiously, and hopped unsteadily of the fence.  Even Xena's eyes showed her surprise, for the figure was a dead ringer of Joxer himself.  The only difference was that, he appeared to have nothing but straw under his clothing.  "This is turning into a real haywire adventure," whispered Gabrielle to a speechless warrior.  Pardon the pun," she added, glancing once again at the wobbling shape that approached them.

"Hey you two," the straw figure said.  "What are you doing here?"

"We're not sure right now," replied Xena.  It took Gabrielle only a second to see that Xena was becoming tired of this strange world.  "We were advised to follow this road to get out of here," Xena added.

"Can we have some of your veggies," Gabrielle asked, ignoring Xena's glare.  "We missed breakfast."

"If you can put up with the birds, I can fix up a real, hearty lunch for you two," Joxer beamed.  "It won't be much, seeing I've got straw for a brain, but I'd be happy to do it."

"Uh...we'll just...er...grab a few things and be gone," stammered Gabrielle.

"But Gabrielle," came a singsong voice of a thoroughly amused Xena.  "I thought you'd love a meal a la Joxer right now." With that, Joxer's face lit up.

"Do you want to get out of this fairytale place?" Gabrielle shot back, getting red around the collar.  "If you do, we'd best be on our way as soon as possible."  But seeing Joxer's hurt look she quickly asked, "Would you like to come along, Joxer?  We can get you to the Wizard, and maybe he could give you a real brain."

"Well," Xena spoke up, "Why don't we pick some things and move on down the road?  Gabrielle's  right.  The sooner we get to the Wizard, the sooner we can all get what we're looking for."

      And soon the three adventurers were on their way again.
 

*******************************************************
Part 5 by Extra

    It had been some time since the trio left the rolling meadows of
Joxer’s garden and entered the forest.   At first progress was good as they
rapidly followed the brick road toward their destination, but soon their
steps slowed.  The canopy of leaves above them covered over completely,
branches intertwining until the sunlight disappeared.  The straight, tall
trees became gnarled and twisted, and the green bushes gave way to those
barren and laden with thorns.  The road had become a tunnel through forest
thicket, and bird song faded into the snarls and growls of prowling animals
near and distant.
     There was a soft rustle from somewhere near them.  They stopped.  Xena
drew her sword, and three pairs of eyes searched their surroundings, probing
desperately into the encroaching darkness. There was a fierce growl, then
another.
     “What d’ya think that was?” queried the scarecrow, swallowing hard.
Joxer’s knees became shaky, but he was determined not to back down.  He
wanted that brain.
     A loud roar echoing through the treetops, the sound of breaking twigs,
and a brown blur raced pass Xena and Gabrielle, knocking them down and
landing on Joxer’s chest, sending various body parts in different directions
on the ground.  Gabrielle thought she felt fur brush as the object went by
her, but she also heard the fluttering of feathers.
     “Get out of my forest!!” screamed the form.  “I am king here and am
angered by your presence.”
     Xena quickly picked herself up and kicked the figure off what had
become a quivering mass of hay.
     “Ow!!!  You didn’t have to kick me,”  it protested between sobs.
     Gabrielle looked at the creature.  It had the body of a lion,  a pair
of large, strong wings, but the head of a human.  “A cowardly griffin?”  she
wondered aloud.
     “Sure cries loud and hard,” noted Joxer’s head now several feet from
its body.
     “How fitting,” added Xena.
     “Salmonius,” the three enjoined.
     “I wasn’t going to *sob* do anything to you.  *sob*  I just wanted you
to go away.” The griffin dabbed his tears with a large paw.  He started to
walk away, but fell.  “Please, don’t hurt me.”
     Xena pushed her sword back into its scabbard.  “You don’t hurt us, we
don’t hurt you.”
     “Are you all right?” asked Gabrielle.  “Can you stand?”
     “I’m...I’m a little weak.  Can you imagine?  The king of the forest,
and I’m too afraid to hunt.  The animals scare me.”  Sal began to bawl
noisily sending more tears streaming down his face.  “The shame of it.  A
carnivore reduced to eating berries.  If only I were brave, I’d.....”
     “Berries?  Did you say berries?”  Gabrielle looked at the thorny
growths.
     “Over there in the Rainbow Brambles,” he said pointing to a group of
somewhat green plants, limbs decorated with berries of bright and varying
colors to which Gabrielle immediately ran.
     “HHHHMMMMM.  How.. did I.. miss these?  They’re delicious!”  exclaimed
Gabrielle between gulps.  “Why...don’t you....join us?”
     “Where are you going?”
     “We’re going to find the wizard,”  clarified Joxer.
     “We’re going to ask for a brain for Joxer.  And Xena and I would like
to go home. Maybe he would give you courage.  Come with us,” Gabrielle
invited as she finished the last of the berries.
     “Gabrielle,”  Xena’s eyes widened.  “All these...,” she started to say
people, but changed her mind, “....creatures will slow us down.”
     “Xena, they need our help to get there...where ever there is.”
     Xena sighed.  “All right.”
     “Oh, yes, I’m going to get some courage.” He  paced happily around in a
circle clapping his hands, then suddenly froze.  “But I’m too afraid.”
     Xena rolled her eyes.  “We’ll protect ya.”
     “Then I’ll go,” he said resuming his dance.
     “Well, wait a minute now....” grumbled Joxer.
     Xena raised a brow as she watched the scarecrow stuff hay back into his
shirt and pants.  She nudged the head with her foot and sent it rolling back
to the rest of the body.
     “Hurry up, Joxer, we have to go,” she said.  “Pull yourself
together....literally.”
     With their help, Joxer managed to reclaim all his hay and stood on
shaky legs.  He squirmed in his clothes, rearranging the hay and sending
more down into the  pants.
     “Ready,”  said Joxer Scarecrow, grinning broadly.
     “I wish I knew where we were,” commented Gabrielle as the group resumed
their trek.
     “Well, you can bet it ain’t Kansas,” noted Salmonius Griffin.
     Gabrielle and Xena exchanged puzzled glances.  “Where’s Kansas?”
*******************************************************
Part 6 by elyxir

  The group set out again along the yellow stone path.  Salmonius flew and
trotted ahead by a few paces then suddenly stopped, quivering......"did you
he-he-he-hear that?"  He quickly moved behind Xena, who once again had her
sword in hand.

"yeah.  It's coming from that clearing over there, behind the woodpile.  You
2 stay here" Xena said to Joxer and Salmonius.

Xena and Gabrielle approached the woodpile as they heard a strange
"squeeeeek" a grinding sound, and a muffled  ....voice?  "HHHH EEEEE  LLLLLL
HHHHHH"

Behind the woodpile they saw ...... a woodcutter in an iron suit.

"Ah Xena, isn't that, doesn't he look like......"

"Autolocus"  Xena finished Gabrielle's sentence.

The iron woodcutter puffed out a breath and rolled his eyes in frustration.
"OOOOO LLLLLL"

"What's he saying Xena?"   Gabrielle chuckled.  "He sure looks funny dressed
in all that iron."

Just then Salmonius and Joxer jumped around the woodpile.  Joxer wobbling on
his not too well stuffed legs.  Salmonius maneuvering to stay behind
everyone, only to pop up and growl then hide again.

"Lets see if we can give you a hand...." Xena said ...."I think he's saying
'Help' and 'Oil'. "

"EEEEESSSSS" the iron man yelled and moved his eyes toward the woodpile.

Gabrielle found an oil can by the woodpile and began oiling Autolocus.  Soon
he was moving his joints and groaning with pleasure.  Then he stopped and
said "It is about time!"

Joxer jumped in, hay flying and said "we're going to find the wizard...wanna
come?  I'm gonna get a brain, the griffin is gonna get courage...what do you
need?"

Autolocus looked down at his boots with a loud squeak.  Gabrielle squirted
some oil around his neck and said "what is it?"

"Well.  I always wanted to have a ruby red heart.  Do you think there's a
chance the wizard could give me one?  " he softly said to the bard.

"Sure!"  Joxer  hopped over

Xena grumbled "why not.... the more the merrier!"

So Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer Scarecrow, Salmoneus Griffin, and Autolocus Iron
Woodcutter set out once again.

Soon Joxer began humming a mindless tune........ and the others began to hum
along...............

Suddenly Xena drew her sword and said "Joxer.....Don't you dare.......

"Xena, I'll stop singing!"   Joxer cried.

"...move" she finished.

Salmoneus quickly ducked behind Xena and Gabrielle as five Harpies, yellow
eyes glowing, flew up from behind Joxer.....................................

*******************************************************
Part 7 by Purple

Xena and Gabrielle fought valiantly, but they couldn’t stop the harpies from
snatching first Joxer, then Salmoneous and Autolycus and carrying them high
above the trees.  Gabrielle let out a shriek as she felt a pair of talons
close over her shoulders and the ground drop away from under her feet.  The
shriek distracted Xena for less than a heartbeat, but that was all it took,
and moments later she too was airborne.  Xena prepared herself, all ready to
hack through her harpy’s claw and perform a daring flip onto the back of the
monster bearing Gabrielle, when Gabrielle cried out.  “Oh!  Xena!  It’s
beautiful!”

*Beautiful?!?* Xena thought.  *We’re in mortal danger and she’s admiring the
scenery?*  But she looked, and shortly had to admit that Gabrielle did have
a point.  The harpies were carrying them toward a city-- and oh, what a city
it was, filled with spectacular towers and minarets, all carved out shining
green stone.  “That must be the Emerald City, where the wizard lives!”
Gabrielle continued.  “Xena, do you suppose that’s where the harpies are
taking us?”

Xena frowned.  Granted she didn’t know much about how life worked in this
over-the-rainbow place, but harpies were harpies.  It seemed odd that they
should be helping them in any way.  “I don’t know,” she shouted back, and
looked down.  The forest had given way to a huge field, covered with big red
flowers.  Xena sniffed hard; the flowers were giving off an unusual scent,
one she could just barely identify.  “Gabrielle?” she started to say.  Then
suddenly the harpy let her go, and she went tumbling toward the earth.

The company landed with assorted grunts and thumps and moans.  Tin man
Autolycus got to his feet with a creak and shook his fist at the retreating
harpies.  “You call that a landing?” he shouted.  “Remind me to tell my
travel agent never to book your airline again!”  The harpies flew on,
unimpressed.

Gabrielle had dusted herself off and was examining one of the big red
flowers.  It grew as high as her shoulder and possessed dome-shaped petals
bigger than Autolycus’s metal head.  “Xena, what are these?” she asked,
sniffing delightedly.  “They smell like nutbread.  They--” The petals came
away in her hands, revealing a large, fragrant loaf in the center.  “They
*are* nutbread.”  A happy smile spread across the bard’s face.  “Nutbread
plants!  Thank the gods, my prayers are answered.  We’re not going to starve
after all!”

“I don’t know,” Xena said, looking at wondrous plants doubtfully.  “We
always seem to have bad luck with nutbread.”

But Gabrielle had already torn off a large piece and was chowing down
rapturously.  “Yummmm”, she exulted.  “It tastes even better than it
smells!”  She smiled at Xena, who was stoically trying to keep her mouth
from watering.  “Come on.  You know you want to.”

“Well...” Xena hesitated a few more seconds, then gave in.  The delicious
aroma was overpowering.  Salmoneous the Griffin quickly followed suit, and
soon all three were munching happily, making little moans of contentment.
Xena waved a hand at Joxer and Autolycus.  “Come on boys,” she said.  “Don’t
you want some?”

“Gee, I’d love to Xena,” Auto said sarcastically, “but I don’t think I have
the stomach for it.”  He thumped on his metallic midsection, which rung
hollowly.  “Hey, straw-for-brains,” he added to Joxer, who was trying
(unsuccessfully) to stuff nutbread into his painted mouth.  “News flash--
you don’t either.”

“What? Oh.”  Joxer smiled sheepishly.  “I was wondering why that didn’t
work.”

Xena, Gab, and Sal ate their fill, sitting in the warm sun.  As she finished
her last bite, Xena heard snoring-- from Salmoneous, stretched out asleep.
Her own eyes felt heavy-- well, a large meal could have that effect.  “Maybe
we could continue our search for the wizard after we have a nap,” she
suggested to Gabrielle, yawning.

“Mmmm-hmmm,” the bard murmured back.  Her eyes were already closed.

Xena stretched out in the shade of a particularly large nutbread flower and
promptly fell asleep, dreaming that she heard a witch cackling in the
distance...
*******************************************************
Part 8 by Gabby Kat

"mortals!" aphrodeite, a.k.a. the good witch of the north, sighed as she
hovered above the bed of nutbread flowers in her padded conch shell.  "you
couldn't wait until you got to the emerald city.  oh no!  what is it with you
and nutbread?!"

aphrodeite continued to circle the band of odd-balls as irritation gave way
to curiosity.  blondie and warrior babe were snuggled up to the feathered
lion while the iron man smacked some straw stuffing out of the scarecrow.

"hey!  what'd ya do that for?" joxer yelled whilst grasping at straw.

"hey?!  hey... get it? hay!!" auto was squeaking from his joints as he howled
out in laughter.  the scarecrow was none to amused by the laughter at his
expense.  he even thought he heard laughter from the skies above.

"oh that was rich!" ahprodeite was wiping gleeful tears from her cheeks as
she continued to watch the show below.  the laughter slowed, though, as she
peered with increasing interest at the longing stares the scarecrow was
casting the catatonic bard.  "oiy!  i don't much care for the blonde, but not
even i could be that cruel!"  With that the good witch cast her hands in a
gentle wave, causing a dusting of white powder to fall from a cloudless sky.

the iron man glared skyward as he realized the moist flakes would surely reap
havoc with his already aching joints.  the scarecrow would never even have
noticed the falling powder had he not been watching gabrielle's face with
such intensity.  as he watched the blanket of white fall upon the bard's face
her eyes began to flutter.  it was a chain reaction that caused his own
insides to flutter.  or was that the wind blowing the stuffing out of him?
"gabby??  you're awake!"  joxer was so relieved that he sprang to his feet.
not a good idea, since his socks had become muddled in the snow and when he
finally landed, his feet were no longer attached to his legs.

"smooth move, straw-boy"  auto drawled at his inept traveling companion.
luckily for joxer, though, the iron man's jaw was rusting from the snow,
inhibiting further commentary.

gabrielle had lost interest in the straw man's antics as she diverted her
attention to the warrior who was coming to with a wide and vocal yawn.
gabrielle helped xena to her feet while the griffen stretched his wings.

"gabrielle... " xena didn't have a chance to finish her thought.

"i know, i know.  no more nutbread."  gabrielle was desperate to change the
subject as she realized how many times her craving for nutbread had given way
to any common sense she might have in her head... always landing her and her
companion in some type of dire straights.  "uhhmmm... didn't aphrodeite say
something about a city?"

before xena had a chance to utter the words *i told you so* the bard had
already closed the distance to the emerald city by nearly half.  xena had to
break into a sprint to catch up to her, leaving the oil can with the straw
man.  "grease the monkey over there, and i'll be waiting for you at the front
gates."
*******************************************************
Part 9 by EJK
 
 
 That was no dream. Callisto was close by; Xena could feel it. A slight tilt of the head to allow a glance upward proved her thoughts. Lightning bolts were forming in the sky, with a message -- GIVE IT UP, XENA DEAR. I'LL GET YOU. The familiar sneer curled on Xena's lip. "Yeah, right!" But despite her usual confidence she hastened to rouse the others. She feared Callisto might not be in the best of moods, and besides, she was eager to get on their way.

    With no further obstacles to hinder progress, the group made it to the castle quickly. At the door, they discovered a sign, which read, "Knock, and ye shall be received." "If only it were so simple…" said Gabrialle dreamily. "I'm still a bit dizzy from all that nutbread." Under her breath Xena could be heard muttering, "Nutbread, nutbread, always nutbread." But, sure enough, their knock was anwered, and the large green door swung lazily open. "Oh!", the five travelers exclaimed in unison. Trotting up to them was a normal sized centaur, harnessed to a plush cart.  Upon reaching the group he opened the door and gestured them all into the cart. "Now that's service", said a half joking Joxer. 

    "Oh button your lip, 'Socrates'", came an irritated remark from Sal. "Oh, and I bet you're too scared of horses to climb aboard that cart," Socrates returned in a huff. "You boys behave yourselves," Autolycus said to them both.  " Well, just remember where all your oiling came from, 'Rusty',"  Socrates retorted. "Ok, let's go", said Sal. "We'll follow you , you 'Dandy' lion, you."  Tension was running high on everyone.
 

    "Great!" Xena whispered to Gabrielle. "Now they've got names for themselves.

    Somewhat reluctantly, Dandy got into the cart, with Socrates at his heels, Rusty after that, Gabrielle next, and finally Xena, thoroughly frustrated as they seemed to be getting nowhere. The Centaur took off in a high strut,  and finally came to a halt beside a yet another flight of stairs.  Before any of the group could move, a scream could be heard within the interior, getting louder, louder, till the door at the stop of the stairs flew open to reveal Strife, Ares' main scratching post. 

    "Heh, heh. The Wizard will see you now". Grimaced Strife, and he hobbled toward the door. There he made a low bow, and with a greatly exaggerated sweep of his arm, he gestured the group to enter.

    "Ares, I might have known", said Xena upon seeing the God of War "So it's been you all along", said Xena in a very irritated voice. "And where does the title of wizard come from"? 

    "First let me congratulate you on making the trip, safely. Glad you could come. And believe me, it wasn't a hard thing for me to manage, getting these,…ah…people to vote me in as Wizard. Throw a fireball or two at 'em and they'll believe anything."

    "What do you want, Ares", asked Xena through clenched teeth. 

    "Do I always have to want something from you? Can't I just enjoy a friendly visit"? 

    "Ares, what do you WANT?" Xena asked again very close to her breaking point now. 

    "Well, now that you mention it, there is a little something… Unfortunately", drawled the war god, "there is yet another irritating blond who is trying to make a place for herself with 'my' followers. Being a god and all that, Callisto can also crank out a few fireballs here and there.  "This", Ares smirked, "is where you come in Xena. I think it's about time Callisto was stopped, and YOU are going to stop her". 

    "You want me to stop Callisto? And what do I get for this feat"?

    "I'll make sure you get back to Greece, and your friend as well. Callisto seems to want the fancy ruby footwear your friend is wearing.  I offer my protection to her untill... 

    " Until what?  As you can see", we've picked up a few others along our way. They have their own requests of the wizard".

    "They can ask for themselves", Ares growled, "after you bring me Callisto's sword as a slight insurance to me that she is, in fact, out of the picture. Oh, and your friend will stay with me. I want her and the pretty ruby footwear well protected. So Xena, do we have a deal"?

    "Alright, Ares. You win," sighed Xena with reluctance. "I'll be back with Callisto's sword. And then she asked, "What's so special about the sandals"?

"Oh, you'll see, when the job is done. Just make sure it does get done. Wouldn't want your friend here to pay for your lack of skills, now would we"? With that he was gone, taking Gabrielle with him. Xena was left with 'Socrates' the strawman, 'Rusty' the tin man, and 'Dandy' the cowardly lion. She sat down to think of what to do next.

 

*******************************************************
Part 10 by Extra

Xena rested her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands.  She
closed her eyes briefly, trying to clear her mind to think.  When she opened
them, she and her compatriots were sitting on the steps outside the city’s
large, protective doors.
     “What the……?!”  Xena stood quickly, her startled response echoed by the
others.
     “Wow! That was fast!”  observed Socrates (Joxer) Scarecrow.
     The foursome sat back down on the wide, yellow steps, Xena and Socrates
just two steps above Dandy (Salmonius) Lion and Rusty (Autolycus) Tinman.
     “You look concerned, Xena,” noted Rusty.
     “Ares really meant what he said.  I could tell.  He wants Callisto
taken care of…. permanently.  I’ve been able to stop her before, but only
for a while.  She’s a goddess. I don’t have any hind’s blood with me.
That’s not exactly something you carry around.”   Her eyes narrowed angrily.
  “And he’s got Gabrielle.”
     They sat for a time, lost in thought.  Occasionally one or the other
would brighten as if with some brilliant idea, only to shake a head and
return to deep thought; all, that is, with the exception of Socrates.  His
eyes shifted from one section of scenery to the other and held a blank
expression as though there was nothing between his ears but….well, but
straw.  He suddenly sat up straight, rubbing his head.
     “Ow!”
     “What is it?” asked an exasperated Xena.
     “I’m not sure.  I think I had an idea.”
     “Doubt that,” snickered Dandy.
     Xena kicked Dandy in the shin.  “What was it?”
     “What?”
     “Your idea,” she muttered between clenched teeth.
     “Oh,”  he paused.  “I forgot.”
     “Great,” sighed Rusty.
     “Ow, there it is again. Oh, no, that’s dumb.  I have no brain.  How can
I have a good idea?”
     “Tell us anyway.”  Xena had little faith in Socrates, but no one else
had been able to offer any constructive thoughts.
     “I just thought, well, what if she wasn’t a goddess.”
     His friends groaned.
     “Wouldn’t we all like that….”  Rusty grumbled.
     “It’s just that in this book I read….”
     “You read?”  questioned Dandy.
     “Sure.  Trying to make up for my lack of brain.”
     Xena was trying to be patient, but that was something she didn’t have
in large quantities.  Not much in small quantities either.  “So what did you
read?”
     “I was reading a book on witchcraft and saw a spell that is supposed to
take power away from witches, warlocks, and wizards.”
     An eyebrow arched.  She didn’t want to get too hopeful.  “Can you
remember it?”
     “Hmmmmm.  I donno.”  He raised an index finger to his head.  “A lot of
loose straw up there, and it’s been jiggled around.”
     “We’re getting nothing accomplished sitting here.  Socrates, Dandy,
Rusty…. let’s go.”
     “Where?” worried Dandy.
     “To find Callisto.”
     “Without a plan?” he whined.  Fear was tightening his chest.
     “Maybe we’ll think of something on the way.”  Rusty didn’t believe his
words, but he tried to sound optimistic.
     They walked along, three in silence, pondering possibilities, hoping
for an alternative solution, while Socrates mumbled to himself, trying to
remember.  Giving the nutbread meadow a wide detour, they hacked their way
through a field of rainbow brambles, stopping to fill Rusty’s metal hat with
berries for their next meal.  The griffin was beginning to tire, and the sun
was getting low on the horizon.  Xena really didn’t want to spend a night in
the open in such a strange land, but they probably would not have a choice.
She watched as small, furry animals scurried through the briars.  Perhaps
she should get Dandy meat to give him energy.  She couldn’t remember the
last time she had eaten.  They could probably all use some food.  A sudden
chill raced through her, and she pulled out her sword.
     “Now would be a good time to remember, Socrates,” she called out to the
scarecrow.
     “Food is the least of your worries, Xena,” a voice hissed from her
left.
     It was impossible to see through the tangle of thick bushes.
     “Where are you, Callisto?”
     “Close.”  A laugh, ripe with evil, hung in the forest to the right.
     “Gods, she could be anywhere,” thought Xena.
     A ball of fire came straight at her and she deflected it with her
sword.  “Show yourself, Callisto.”
     “But, Xena,”  the voice was almost seductive, “this is more fun.  If
you must have it your way….”
     Xena spun around to find herself face to face with the witch.
     “I could use magic,”  she cackled, backing away.  Reaching arm’s
length, she swept her sword.  The sound of metal meeting metal rang out as
Xena’s sword met hers. “But--”  clank   “--I’d rather fight you,--“
clank    “--wear you out,--”    clank   ”--and destroy you--”  she grinned
wickedly  ”--the old fashion way.”
     Xena’s companions ran to her aid with Dandy a distant third.  “Stay
back!”  Xena shouted.  Her eyes glowed and a grin as evil as the witch’s
spread across her face.  “She’s mine.”
     The sounds of their battle bounced against the edge of the forest and
repeated into their field.  Blow after blow, deflected and returned.  A
spin, a jump.  Thrust and parry.  Minute collapsed upon minute; candlemark
upon candlemark.  Sweat began to bead on Xena’s brow.  Her muscles screamed
for rest, but she forced them on.
     “I can do this forever, Xena,” Callisto cackled.  “Can you?”
     Xena lunged forward.  As she did, she stepped on a rock.  Her foot
slipped, and she fell, her head hitting the ground with a dull thud.
Stunned, she lay unmoving as Callisto lifted her sword.  A blur accompanied
by the soft rustle of wings streaked above her.  There was a yelp, and witch
and griffin landed in the dirt.  The women leaped to their feet and returned
to their struggle.
     “Think of something, Socrates,”  Rusty urged.
     “Water and mist, come.  No, no, that’s not it.  Maybe fire and mist?
After all, when water hits fire it becomes steam.  No.  How about fire and
brimstone?”  Clouds began to form and darken.
     “Good!  Good! You’re doing it!”  shouted Rusty.
     “Fire and brimstone come to me.  Show me how to tame this witch.”  A
smile shot across his face.  He lifted his arms, screaming into the dark.
“I call upon the earth, wind, fire, water!  Extinguish her strength and blow
it away!”
     The witch’s arm fell to her side, and she raised a hand to her head as
she used the sword to steady herself.  Xena seized upon the opportunity,
smashing the hilt of her sword into Callisto’s head, knocking her out.
     “Nice work, Socrates,” she complimented, smiling over the unconscious
form.
     “Thanks, but, Xena, you need to check Dandy.  She got him with the
sword.”  He put a comforting hand on Rusty’s shoulder.  “Now stop crying.
We don’t have your oil can, and your jaw and neck already screech when you
move.”
     Xena gently turned Dandy over to examine the wound.  “It’s bad, but
it’s not life threatening.  You’re going to be all right.  I’ll get some
cobwebs to stop the bleeding.”  She paused.  “You saved my life.  Thank
you.”
     Dandy gave a slight nod.
     Xena paused briefly as she gathered the cobwebs to study the trio just
thirty feet away.
The brainless scarecrow who defeated Callisto with his words was consoling
the heartless tinman as he wept over the injured body of the cowardly
griffin who had saved her life.
She smiled.
     Callisto sat up and tried to rub the pain from her head.  Giving a
bored grunt, Socrates pointed a finger at her.
     “Volcanoes erupt, earth shake, and rain pour.  Enclose this witch in
moving room without a door.”
     As her eyes began to focus, the powerless witch found herself in a very
small, metal cage.
     Socrates took hold of the vine he attached to Callisto’s prison.  The
wheels creaked as he tugged it along the path.  Rusty and Xena each took a
side of the litter and began to pull it.
     “Do you think the wizard will be upset that we didn’t kill her?”  asked
Socrates as he led the way.
     “He said to take care of her.  He didn’t say destroy.  Oh,”  she
stooped to pick up the sword as they passed by, “can’t forget this.”
     “Hey, Socrates,”  Rusty called as he pulled the heavy litter, “do you
think you could put wheels on this thing?”
******************************************************
Part 11 by Purple

The trip back to the Emerald City was uneventful.  When they got to palace
entrance, however, they found the door locked and barred.  Xena sighed and
pounded on the door, causing the stone walls of the palace to shake and at
least half a dozen tiny gems to come tumbling down around their feet (Rusty
started to surreptitiously pocket some, until he caught Xena’s glare.
"Reflexes, just reflexes," he mumbled and dropped them back onto the
ground.)  A tiny window opened in the door and Strife looked out at them.
"You’re not allowed back until you’ve taken care of the witch," he said
peevishly, and started to close the door.

The warrior princess’s strong hand prevented it.   "We have."

Strife regarded her suspiciously.  "Where’s the sword?"

For answer Xena brandished the weapon—a gesture that made even her loyal
companions cough and step back nervously, and made Strife’s eyes bug out.
"So you got it," he said.  "Good for you; we’re all very proud.  Well, see
you later."  He grabbed the window and pulled it in.

Once again Xena’s uncanny digital strength kept the door from closing.  The
Warrior Princess grabbed the godling’s collar with her other hand, and put
her face close to his.  He yelped and began babbling fearfully.  "Strife,"
Xena said calmly, "are you going to open this door or am I going to open it
for you?"

Strife swallowed several times.  "Uh—the former?"

"Good choice."  Xena let him go, and the door was quickly opened.

Xena knew something was wrong the very second they entered.  The stairs
leading to the great chamber were dark and cold, completely lacking the
depressing Technicolor gaiety that had pervaded the palace before.  Granted,
it belonged to Ares, and he was about as fond of Technicolor gaiety as Xena
was, but the change was still troubling.  When they got to the receiving
room, Ares was sitting dejectedly on the dais under a dim light.  "Geez,"
muttered Socrates under his breath.  "Who broke *his* balloon?"

"Xena!"  The cry reverberated through the dark room, and Xena suddenly found
her arms full of petite blonde.  "You’re back!  Did you…"  Gabrielle’s hands
encountered the extra sword strapped to Xena’s back, and her smile
broadened.  "Ah.  I see you did."

"Did you have any doubt?"

Gabrielle’s eyebrow arched.  "Well, when you put it that way… no," she
replied, smiling.  "But Ares was watching you the whole time in one of those
magic window thingies.  At first he kept grinning and cackling, but then he
suddenly got so depressed, and I thought…"

"How long has he been like this?"

"Several hours."

*Hmmm,*  Xena thought.  *That’s just about how long it’s been since we
defeated Callisto.  I wonder…*  She neatly untangled herself from Gabrielle
and approached the god, the rest of her noble band neatly falling in behind
her.  "All right Ares," she said.  "We took care of Callisto.  Here’s the
proof."  She unsheathed the sword and tossed it onto the dais, the sharp
point landing with a clatter just a hairsbreadth from the war god’s feet.

Ares looked up at her darkly.  "I’m aware of that, thank you," he said
caustically.  "If I hadn’t been watching you, Strife’s blubbering at the
door would surely have given me a clue."

Xena crossed her arms.  "Then why the long face, Ares?  You’d think you’d be
pleased.  Callisto’s been a thorn in your side for…"

"A long time, yes I know."  Ares rubbed his temples painfully and stood up,
coming toward them.  "Don’t think I’m not grateful," he said, a little gleam
of pleasure coming into his eyes.  "I’m glad to see the little witch so
neatly disposed of, and it was *wonderful* seeing you at the head of an,
um," his eyes traveled briefly over Rusty, Socrates and Dandy.  "An army
again.  But your success does put me into a difficult position."

Xena said nothing.  She waited.  Ares spread his arms.  "You see, I know
that now you’re going to want me to help you back to Greece.  And I just
can’t do that."

Gabrielle shouldered her way in front of Xena, eyes flashing.  "*Will* not,
you mean," she said icily.

"No," said the God of War.  He walked back to the dais and dropped into the
seat.  He looked at the two women with a touch of amusement in his eyes, and
something else that neither Xena nor Gabrielle had seen before:
self-mocking.  "I can’t.  I don’t have the power..."
*******************************************************
Part 12 by Gabby Kat

"you don't have the power?!  you're the god of war!"

"gabrielle..." xena tried to head off the bard.

"no, xena.  how many times has mr. high-and-mighty toyed with us just for his
amusement?"

ares quirked a brow at the anger dancing in the bard's eyes, while their
traveling companions looked on wide-eyed as well.  the war god was becoming
pleased with himself until he saw the familiar hue of understanding wash over
gabrielle's face.

*uh oh... she got it*

"wait a minute.  you don't have the power, but someone else does.  is that
it?  oh for the love of... well, uh, certainly not the love of you!" the bard
was still trying to keep her anger in check.

ares turned up the corner of his mouth as a faint sparkle glinted in his
eyes.  the look registered with xena as well and she realized that the bard
was on to something, *i just hope it's not more nutbread*.  the war god
stepped down from the dais and clapped his hands in typical
overexaggerated-ares-fashion. "oh xena, i suppose she does serve a purpose,
doesn't she?"

"ares..." the warning was ushered over clenched teeth as the warrior's eyes
paled.

"someone else has the power, not you, but who?" gabrielle interrupted her
companion.  "psycho-witch has been caged... strife... well we won't even go
there." gabrielle cast her eyes about for the godling but didn't see him.
"the only one left is aphrodite.  well, she's a goddess, but she's no more
powerful than you--"

"ya got that right!" ares replied not expecting the response that followed.

"hey!  i heard that!" 'dite bellowed as best she could as she surfed into the
war god's chamber on her salmon colored conch shell.

"strife!!" ares screamed at his right-hand nuisance's inability to screen his
guests.

"sorry, unc.  she wouldn't take no for an answer." the wiry godling threw his
hands up in defense as he trailed in behind the *good witch*

ares slapped his hand to his forehead, "d'oh-- and i thought greece was a
pain in the a--"

"hey!  just because i don't suffer from sword-envy and revel in all that
death and destruction jazz, doesn't mean i can't be useful.  I mean... how do
you think blondie over there got those ruby-red sandles??"

"hey gabby, those sandles are real pretty." socrates ducked his head
bashfully, drawing an exasperated sigh from xena and the bard.

"the sandles?  don't tell me that the sandles are the key to getting out of
here?" gabrielle's patience was well beyond the point of being tried.

"thank you, queen amazon!" 'dite hefted a sarcastic glare at the bard.

"enough!" xena's patience... well, her patience was lost at the sight of the
pint-sized centaurs laughing over alti's withered carcass... *oiy... i need a
vacation.  i've had about all i can take*  "would you two stop arguing!
aphrodite," the warrior continued in an even tone. "what does gabrielle's
footwear have to do with us getting out of here?"

"chill warrior babe.  actually... i'm kind of surprised you haven't clued in
yet."

"excuse me?" xena ducked her head and arched a dark brow over icey-blue eyes.

"oh come on!  ms. self-reliant-exudes-personal-strength?  xena... everything
you want, all of you want," the good witch scanned the group of travelers
before her.  "is right there within each of you." xena inhaled a deep breath
and crossed her arms before letting out a long sigh.

"Whoa... wait a minute!  *right here within each of us*  you don't seriously
think i woulda traipsed through technicolor-land with straw-for-brains here
if i actually had a heart in this tin chest, do ya?" rusty was the first to
speak out.

"hey!  you don't have to call me names, ya know!" socrates wagged a finger at
the tin man as straw went flying.

"boys, boys, boys!  think about it.  who saved the day by *thinking* up the
spell to quiet *her wickedness* over there?" aphrodite nodded in callisto's
direction.  "straw dude, how could a brainless oaf have thought up that plan?"

"well that's all well and good, princess, but he never conjured up a spell to
give me a heart."

'dite rolled her eyes.  "that's because you've already got one.  how many
people would shed a tear over salmoneus, of all people?  speaking of which...
sal-- don't you know how much courage it took to lunge at psycho-witch
there... just to protect xena?  don't you all get it?  you already have what
you seek.  all you have to do is believe in yourselves."

gabrielle closed her eyes briefly and opened them with a quirked brow.
"aphrodite.  i happen to feel pretty sure of myself.  and i'm fairly certain
xena isn't lacking in the self-confidence department.  we just wanna get back
home."

"do you believe it?" 'dite asked the bard with an inviting smile.

"what?"

"that there's no place like home?"

"do i believe it?!  you bet your pink chiffon i do... there is definitely no
place like home." gabrielle answered without hesitation as she glanced at
xena for support.

"no place like home--" xena agreed with a soft sigh.

gabrielle returned her companion's sentiment with a warm smile and started to
repeat the warrior's words.  "there's no place--"
 

TO BE CONTINUED...
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Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse   Argo's Stable