Cover by Calli

Disclaimers

About this story: This story is set in the modern Xenaverse. However, I pretend the modern episodes of Xena never occurred with the exception of "The Xena Scrolls."

Iím quite fascinated by the peace versus violence dynamic, particularly in relation to Gabrielleís path. In the show, and in most other fanfic stories Iíve read, Gabrielle is always forced to leave the path of peace in order to defend herself. I wondered for a long time if it was possible to write a story where she didnít do this. This is my feeble attempt at exploring that possibility, and I even got to combine it with another favorite fascination Ė the conversion of Xena from evil to good. Fun!

Violence: This story contains scenes of violence and its aftermath.

Bad language: The main character swears a lot, so be prepared for a fair number of good oleí Anglo-Saxon expletives.

Many thanks to my beta-readers, Jill and members of the Bardic Circle - Laura, Lariel, Extra, Norma, Jess, Kam, Nancy, and Roo.

All comments welcomed at strix@gyrfalcon.net

Temple of Rage
By Leslie Ann Miller

"Think of yourselves as lines in the mendhi-- separated-- but forever connected." - Naima, from the Xena "Blue" Scroll, translated by M. Pappas

Harmonn Sharpe smiled smugly at her reflection in the mirror and tossed a used strand of dental floss into the wastebasket. It was going to be a good morning, she thought, and quickly ran a brush through her short, dark hair. It was sunny and warm outside, a pleasant day to be spending out and about on temple business.

She straightened her black t-shirt before leaving the bathroom, pleased that the temple motto, "Divide and Conquer" was so easy to read on the front, even written as it was in blood red letters. It would clearly denote her as one of Aresí warriors, and she welcomed the stares of loathing and fear that would meet her as soon as she left the sanctuary of her small apartment for the bustling sidewalks of Telegraph Avenue.

Slinging a backpack over her shoulder, she debated briefly if she should take a switchblade with her but decided against it. No use risking getting caught with an illegal weapon when she was just going on a scouting mission. The Berkeley police were known to do random weapons checks on the followers of the more violent deities.

She didnít know why her god, Ares, disliked the Elijians so much, but it didnít surprise her when the order came down from Arms Master Hershel to crucify the leader of the Campus Crusade for Peace. In fact, she was rather tickled by the notion, not just because a successful mission would result in a promotion for her within the temple hierarchy. She hated the Elijians with a passion. Their weak-minded preaching of peace, harmony, and unity represented everything she despised.

Though she knew Ares had once been worshipped in ancient Greece, he was a newcomer on the religious scene in the twenty-first century. The elite inner circle of Arms Masters, privy to personal interaction with the god himself, spoke of a long imprisonment, but Harmonn could hardly care less about Aresí history. All that mattered was that he was here, now, carefully supervising the many followers whoíd flocked to his temples in recent years. Theyíd been wreaking havoc for almost a decade now, leaving a trail of division and hatred in their wake. The power she gained through her association with the god was better than any drug. IntimidationÖ it was a dizzying, infectious high.

She set the alarm system for her apartment before closing the front door and locked the four dead-bolts behind her. Whistling tunelessly, she trotted down the stairs to the outside entrance of her building. Telegraph Avenue was already crowded at nine-thirty on a Friday morning as she stepped out into the sunlight. Gods bless Northern California. Here it was the beginning of November, and it felt like spring.

"Morning, Har!" Jez, a self proclaimed gypsy who usually set up a booth in front of Harmonnís building, waved at her cheerfully. Jez made her living doing tarot readings and selling "love potions" supposedly blessed by the goddess, Aphrodite. To Harmonn, she looked more like a crackpot than the typical losers who were attracted to the goddess, but she had to admit that Jez had many repeat customers who paid outrageous prices for her wares.

"Morning," Harmonn mumbled, far less cheerily. She didnít understand why Jez was always so friendly to her, and frankly, it annoyed her. She suspected a crush, the most common reason people were friendly to her, but she couldnít remember Jez ever overtly flirting with her. She tucked her hands into her jeans pockets and turned towards campus, accidentally bumping shoulders with a man walking in the opposite direction.

The man began to sputter an apology, then caught sight of her t-shirt. He paled and stepped away hastily, a look of fear and disgust on his face. "Damn murderers," he said before shuffling on his way, periodically glancing back over his shoulder to make sure she wasnít following.

Harmonn grinned at him wickedly, knowing that he would likely be jumping at every shadow for the rest of the day, afraid of retribution. People didnít piss off Aresí warriors. Those who did had a tendency to disappear. Satisfied that he sufficiently regretted his pathetic show of bravado, she continued on her way, noticing the wide berth that other passersby gave her. Yes, the God of War was back, and even the worshipers of other more popular deities were shaking in their boots.

Despite the countryís stance on freedom of religion, many states had banned Aresí temples because of the violence associated with his worship. The politicians labeled his following as a cult to get around the law, while the ACLU fought for the freedom to worship what was clearly a god. Courtroom battle after courtroom battle had ensued, much to Aresí delight. The god of war, after all, thrived on conflict of any sort.

After Ares himself made an appearance in a Florida appeals court, brutally killing two of the stateís finest lawyers who had dared to question the validity of his existence, the Supreme Court, in a show of courage that even Ares respected, decided to uphold the statesí ban on his temples. The resulting publicity did much for recruitment efforts, and despite the lack of physical temples, worship of Ares thrived underground and in secret training camps scattered throughout the country and the world.

Harmonn smiled, relishing the task ahead. If she was successful, she would prove her worthiness to serve her god and strike a major blow against his enemies. She didnít know why, but the cult of Eli had taken to slandering the name of Ares in particular, even though they had several hundred other gods they could attack with their bizarre "One God and One God Only" philosophies. All across the country their pathetic little groups had been posting flyers and hosting public "prayer circles" in their feeble attempts to win more followers in their "battle against the violence." As if they knew the meaning of the word "battle."

Harmonn shook her head. The Elijians were crazy. Everyone knew it, except, apparently, other Elijians. How could one reasonably argue that there was only one god in a world so obviously populated with them? It was like trying to claim that the Valkyriesí horses couldnít fly, or that Hitler hadnít used the Rheingold against the Allies in World War II. For godsí sakes, just last week, a construction site in Arizona was razed by an angry (though unimportant) Native American deity, indignant that they were building on his sacred ground. Just who and what did the Elijians think these powerful immortal beings were? Science certainly couldnít explain them or their magical objects.

Harmonn ripped an Elijian flyer off a telephone pole on the corner of Telegraph and University before crossing the street with a crowd of students heading toward Sather Gate and morning class. "Donít give in to the violence, hatred and anger!" it proclaimed. "Come find the peace offered by Eli and the One True God." It included todayís date, a time of 10:00am, and a location in front of Sather Tower. At the bottom was a footnote, "BYOB (bring your own blanket)." She snorted, folded the flyer, and tucked it into her back pocket.

An army of devotees representing dozens of different temples, deities, and political organizations accosted the students as they passed by the Student Union. Harmonn noticed that none of them targeted her, except a young man wearing an Elijian pendant. He timidly held out a flyer in her direction as she passed. "Fuck you," she said. "Ares rules!" He swallowed and turned away quickly, looking for a more likely recruit.

Harmonn swore under her breath. These Elijians needed to be taught a lesson. Ares wanted to put the fear of death into their petty peace-preaching little hearts, and what better place to do it than in their US bastion here in Berkeley? Their "One God" nonsense had never really taken off historically except in India and China, but theyíd found a devoted following in the Bay Area, and the UC Berkeley student group was especially active.

This was one of the few places where Elijians came into direct, open conflict with the Temple of Ares, because California, in its quest to preserve diversity and freedom, was one of the few states that hadnít yet banned open worship of the Greek God of War. Harmonn wondered if that would change after she crucified Erin Kincaid, leader of the Elijian Campus Crusade for Peace.

*********

Harmonn watched from a distance as the small group of nine Elijians settled themselves on blankets on one of the campus lawns. It was tempting to harass them physically despite the watchful eye of the campus security officer obviously assigned to guard them, but she decided she didnít want to bring that much attention to herself since she was going to be killing one of them so soon. Besides, there were already enough people standing around heckling them that she didnít really need to add anything to what was already an uncomfortable situation for their new recruitsÖ of whom she counted two.

"Hey Elijians!" one of the hecklers called. "How do you know thereís ĎOne Godí when you never see him?"

"Yeah, maybe you should call him the ĎNone God,í instead," someone else added, which got several laughs from other members of the crowd.

Harmonn chuckled as one of the two new recruits shifted uncomfortably on her blanket.

Erin Kincaid leaned forward and patted the girl on her knee, smiling. Though Harmonn couldnít hear what the Elijian leader said, she could see that her lips formed the word, "Faith." The girl smiled back, relaxing, and Kincaid proceeded to show her the proper sitting position for meditative prayer.

Harmonn had to admit that Kincaid was charismatic. She had long, strawberry blonde hair and was relatively petite, though with an athletic build, and her face glowed with a charming radiance that thoroughly disgusted Harmonn. She had to wonder if there would even be a Campus Crusade for Peace if Erin Kincaid werenít simply so damn cute and perky. Yecht. Harmonn certainly couldnít see any appeal in the religion itself.

Ares was wise to want her gone.

A tall, sandy-haired man wearing a miniature Thorís hammer around his neck stopped next to her and elbowed her in the ribs, interrupting her thoughts. "Can you believe those assholes?" he asked in a slight Swedish accent.

Harmonn shook her head, deciding not to make a scene by ripping his arms out of their sockets for touching her.

"Hey, donícha know Eli died a couple thousand years ago!" he shouted, oblivious to her anger, then laughed. "Bunch of nutballs trying to play tennis without a racket," he grinned at her, then continued on his way.

Harmonn scowled. Big, dumb, Scandi-whovian. What a disaster that had been when, three years ago, the wolf, Fenris, had deliberately been released onto the streets of Oslo by doomsday terrorists hoping to bring about Ragnarok. While the end of the world had not resulted, thousands of people had died in the rampage and a good portion of the city had been destroyed before the Norse gods managed to get him back in chains. The fact that it had taken them three days to capture the beast only proved to Harmonn the total incompetence of the entire Norse pantheon. "Odin is a pussy," she muttered to herself, then turned her attention back to Kincaid.

The Elijian was sitting crossed-legged now, facing her followers, reading from a large book in her lap. She thought how ironic it was that the confident leader was so totally oblivious to the fact that she would soon be screaming for mercy, begging for her life as she was hammered to a cross. The thought made Harmonnís heart beat a little faster. According to Ares, there was, after all, nothing more satisfying than the death of an enemy.

The prayer circle would probably last for at least another hour and a half, and Harmonn had some arrangements to make at the temple before she performed the execution. She would catch Kincaid, literally, a little later.

*********

The underground inner sanctum of Aresí temple was lined with weapons and armor from around the world. Automatic weapons hung beside swords; grenades rested in baskets next to stones and slings. The floor on one end of the hall was covered in wrestling mats. Here, too, were punching bags and a large variety of exercise equipment that rivaled the most expensive gyms. The level below the sanctum was a fully functional firing range.

At the opposite end of the hall was the godís own throne set on a raised platform. It was decorated by three skulls representing the first kills of the three Arms Masters who shared the responsibility of running this particular temple. Harmonn smiled to herself as she strode forward to the throne, ignoring the small group of men and women sparring at the other end of the hall. Soon, there would be a fourth skull to join the three.

It was the duty of the Arms Masters to train other followers in the art of battle, from hand to hand fighting, to the use of the weapons on the walls. Harmonn had mastered all but a few of the weapons, and she could defeat all three of the current Arms Masters in hand-to-hand combat. She had long felt she was overdue for her chance to join their elite circle, but now her time had finally come. All that stood in her way was Erin Kincaid.

She kneeled before the throne and saluted the bare-bladed sword resting across the arms of the seat, the symbolic presence of her god. "Mighty Ares, hear my words," she said out loud, beginning her customary prayer of thanks.

"Iím listening," a voice said smugly, and Harmonn looked up, eyes widening in surprise.

Her god, Ares, was lounging on the throne, leisurely stroking his black beard with one hand.

Harmonn gaped.

"Yes?" he said, looking self-satisfied and handsome at the same time.

All thought fled Harmonnís mind. All she could do was stare. Her god was here. This was Ares. Ares was speaking to her. She couldnít believe it.

"Harmonn, Harmonn, Harmonn," the god said, shaking his head. "I thought youíd been trained better than that."

The fiery glow between Aresí fingers barely registered in Harmonnís shocked mind before the god flung the fireball at her. She rolled out of the way milliseconds before it exploded on the stone floor where sheíd been kneeling.

She came up standing in a defensive fighting stance, feeling adrenaline shooting through her veins. The nearest weapon was only three steps away, and she prepared to lunge for it. She wasnít going to take shit from anyone, not even Ares.

Instead of following with another attack, the god clapped his hands together slowly in mock applause. "Thatís more like it," he said. "I like it when youíre angry."

She let herself relax slightly. Maybe this was some kind of test.

"Whatís the matter? Afraid to talk to me?" Ares asked, leaning back in his chair again. "I distinctly heard you ask me to listen to you."

Harmonn nodded, deciding not to kneel again. "Yes, my lord. I received orders today from Arms Master Hershel that I was to crucify the local leader of the Elijians. I was just going to ask for your blessings and help in this matter. It seemedÖ appropriate."

"Do you need my help?" the God of War asked curiously.

"Of course not," Harmonn said quickly. She didnít want Ares to think she was weak. "But we are taught to always ask for your assistance before we go into battle."

Ares smirked. "Lesson number one: Arms Masters donít need my help. Donít ask for it. You wonít get it. Lesson number two: I donít give blessings. I shed blood. Sometimes, when I feel like it, I bestow my favor on talented warriors. If you ask for it, you wonít get it."

Harmonn swallowed. "Yes, lord."

"Lesson number three: my name is Ares. To you, at least."

Harmonn was getting over her astonishment enough to register that Ares was granting her a special privilege. "YesÖ Ares."

The god grinned. "Thatís more like it." He stood up, sword in hand, and hopped off the platform, landing beside her. He walked to the wall where he grabbed another sword and tossed it to her. Harmonn caught it, glancing around to see if anyone on the other end of the hall had noticed the godís appearance.

They were frozen in place as if time was standing still, and Harmonn knew that whatever the outcome of this encounter with Ares, there would be no witnesses to it. The god waggled his fingers in their direction. "I didnít want us interrupted," he said, beginning to circle her, his blade out and ready.

Harmonn twirled the sword in her hand, checking it for balance and speed. It was a bit tip-heavy, and that would slow her down some, but the grip felt comfortable and that would help. She smiled in anticipation. Sheíd always wanted to test her skill against a god.

Ares saw it in her eyes and laughed. He swung at her, trying her defenses, but Harmonn blocked it easily. He followed that with a series of blinding fast strikes that she barely managed to deflect.

"Youíve got a good defense," the war god smiled, stepping back out of range, but still poised for action.

"My offense is even better," Harmonn purred, and proceeded to launch a flurry of her own attacks. She was somewhat dismayed by the ease with which he protected himself, but that only fueled her desire to win.

The fight continued without further conversation until the sweat was running into Harmonnís eyes, and she was seething with frustration. Ares looked as fresh as when he started, and whereas she was starting to feel the strain from the blade-heavy sword on her arm and wrist, the war godís reflexes and actions were as fast and strong as they had been in the beginning. Harmonn wanted nothing more than to knock the smug grin from his face, but she was becoming acutely aware of why a god was such a formidable opponent. Sheíd known before, in a cerebral sort of way, but facing one in battle certainly brought the lesson home physically.

Ares feinted, somersaulted over her head, and flipped her from behind. Harmonn went sprawling on the hard temple floor, and the sword skittered out of her hand. She rolled to one side as Aresí sword sliced into the tile where her shoulder had been, and she leapt to her feet, diving for another weapon on the wall behind her. She grabbed a spear and launched it at the god with lethal speed and accuracy.

Ares sidestepped the weapon with unbelievable speed even as Harmonn grabbed a glaive off the wall in desperation. She didnít like fighting with glaives, or pole weapons of any sort, for that matter, but she didnít have time to pick and choose.

Ares sauntered forward, chuckling. "Just like old times, eh?"

Seeing as sheíd never fought Ares before in her life, Harmonn decided he was trying to play with her mind. She ignored him.

He closed the last steps between them with a leap and a shout, swinging his blade at her legs. She blocked the attack with the haft of the glaive, but the sword cut deeply into it, almost severing it. She swung wildly in response, and Ares grabbed the weapon with his free hand, twisting it out of her grip. With a quick swipe, he knocked her feet out from under her, and Harmonn crashed to the floor. When she opened her eyes, the war god was leaning over her, the tip of his sword to her neck. He was frowning.

"What in Zeusís name was with that last attack?" he asked.

Harmonn swallowed, trying to catch her breath. "IÖ I donít like fighting with pole arms," she confessed.

Ares stepped back and let her climb to her feet. He tossed the glaive to her. "Get in stance."

Harmonn complied, only to hear the war god groan.

"Thereís your problem," he said. "Youíre right handed, and youíre starting left foot forward. Thatís fine if youíre a man, but," he smirked, "obviously youíre not. Youíre built differently. See, just like with your sword, if you fight left foot forward, you lose about half your power in a shot because your hips donít work like a manís. You end up fighting your own body when you follow through, instead of having it work for you. Here, do it like this. See how much more natural it feels?"

Harmonn switched stances and had to admit that he was right.

"One of the reasons I want you as an Arms Master is so you can train other women," the god said. "Womenís bodies donít work the same as menís. Women have different hand grips, different joints, different hips. You have to take that into account in their training. Their mind-set isnít the same, either. Different psychology." He snorted. "I learned that a long time ago, didnít I? So Iíll teach you, and youíll teach them. Donít fail me, Harmonn," he said, "Iím counting on you." He then disappeared in a flash of red light.

Harmonn took a deep breath as activity and noise erupted abruptly at the other end of the hall.

The supervising Arms Master, Jake Mellor, looked in her direction as if sensing something was amiss. She watched as his eyes took in the glaive in her hands and the other weapons scattered on the floor. He turned and spoke to one of the men he was helping, then started in her direction.

Harmonn retrieved the sword and spear and was placing them back on the wall when Jake reached her.

"What the hell happened here?" he asked.

Jake was tall and big - big enough to have been a pro football player until turf-toe ended his career prematurely. Most people found him intimidating, but Harmonn knew how to use his size against him. His angry tone didnít phase her. "I had a visit from Ares," she said.

The big man didnít seem surprised. In fact, he grinned. "Howíd you do?"

"I held my own," she said with a shrug. Judging from Jakeís reaction, this visit wasnít unexpected after all. It was obviously a test, and she gathered she had passed.

Jake guffawed. "Iíll bet you did." He clapped her on the back. "What are your plans for the Elijian?"

"I thought Iíd grab her from her apartment tomorrow. I still have to get the cross ready to go today, and buy the nails. Plus, I really gotta go to work this afternoon."

"Where do you plan to do it?"

"I havenít decided, yet. With a couple of boys helping me, I could probably do it in one of the parks. If I break her legs, she shouldnít be able to survive long enough to be rescued. But thatís kind of chancy at best. You never know when the cops might show up unexpectedly. And it would take away half the fun if I had to keep her from screaming. I thought it might be more pleasing to Ares to do it right here in the temple. We could see how long she can last, you know, and let her scream all she wanted."

"I like that," Jake nodded. "Tell you what, Iíll call for a general assembly of warriors tomorrow. The whole temple can watch. And Iíll get some of the guys to build the cross for you. You shouldnít have to mess with that before your big day."

"Thanks, thatíd be great," Harmonn said.

Jake looked at her appraisingly. "I know you came to us from the military," he said hesitantly, "But I have to ask. Is this your first kill?"

Harmonn narrowed her eyes. "None of your fuckiní business," she growled, turning to leave.

The Arms Master frowned and grabbed her arm in a meaty hand. "It is my business, because with you about to become an Arms Master, it becomes temple business. Ares is all about killing, but donít let the propaganda fool you. Killing another person changes you, Ms Sharpe, particularly when you do it in a slow fashion like a crucifixion. I want to make sure youíre prepared for it. I want to know that youíre ready."

Harmonn pulled her arm out of his grasp angrily. "Iím ready. And no, itís not my first kill," she said bitterly, then carefully suppressed any further thought on the subject.

"Good," the big man nodded. "Why donítÖ." He stopped mid-sentence, looking towards the other end of the hall.

Harmonn, too, noticed something wrong immediately. The hall had gone silent.

As she looked towards the other end, she noted that everyoneís attention was focused on the main entrance at the bottom of the stairway leading to the street.

"What in godsí names?" Jake muttered.

Harmonn couldnít believe her eyes. Standing just inside the heavy door, running her hand awkwardly through her long, blonde hair, was none other than Erin Kincaid.

***********

"Iíll handle this," Harmonn said, feeling the anger rising in her system. This wasnít how it was supposed to be. How dare the stupid bitch come here? This was her sacred turf, and the Elijian had no business being here.

Yet.

"This I gotta see," she heard Jake mutter behind her as she strode angrily towards the entrance.

Harmonn stopped two feet in front of Kincaid and watched with detached satisfaction as the girl practically shrank in her presence, clearly cowed by her height and presence. "What in Aresí name do you think youíre doing here?" she demanded angrily.

The Elijian looked up at Harmonn with wide eyes and took a step backwards, inadvertently running into the door. She froze there. "IÖ I donít really know, actually," she stammered, forcing a smile. "I wasÖ I was meditating on campus, um, when Eli came to me in a vision. He told me to come here."

"Eli?" Harmonn repeated in disbelief. "You meanÖ the Eli?"

Kincaid nodded, still looking frightened.

Harmonn hesitated a moment, finding this information profoundly disturbing. First, it implied that this Eli did, in fact, exist - not just as a distant historical figure who inspired a crackpot movement that had outlived it usefulness on the planet a thousand years ago Ė but rather as an actual, active spiritual figure with some form of power right here in the modern day. Second, if Eli were, in fact, real, why on Earth would he send his most charismatic leader straight into the lionís den when they were currently plotting her demise? She didnít think the Elijians were into blood sacrifices, but fear could cause people Ė and, ostensibly, gods - to do strange things. Maybe Eli was afraid.

Her initial anger gave way to disgust. What kind of a pathetic god would do something like this to a loyal follower? It was clear the girl had no idea why sheíd been sent. Kincaid was clueless. And there would be no pleasure for Harmonn in killing her like this. What loss could her death be to the Elijian cause if her god had sent her so willingly? What a twisted bunch of losers. "You have no idea why you were sent, do you?" she asked.

The girl shook her head. "No." She smiled wryly. "Do you?"

Harmonn suppressed a smile at the tentative hope in her voice. "Ares hates Elijians. I think youíve been sent as a sacrifice to pacify his anger against Eli."

Kincaid paled visibly. "Eli isnít afraid of Ares," she said, swallowing.

"And how, pray tell, do you know that?"

"He stood up to Ares when he was alive. He let Ares kill him, knowing that in doing so his message of peace and compassion would live on in the hearts of the common people."

Jake snorted behind her, and Harmonn chuckled. She hadnít heard the story before, but it would certainly explain the cultís obsession with the war god, as well as Aresí own dislike for the Elijians. "Well, I guess Eli has decided itís time to renew his message," she said slowly, then swiftly punched the girl in the face.

She watched dispassionately as the Elijian fell bonelessly to the floor, unconscious.

"Why donít you take her to my office," Jake said, nodding in the direction of the door leading to the administrative office complex. "Weíll keep her here until tomorrow."

Harmonn nodded and rubbed her knuckles, more from disgust and disappointment than any real pain caused by the punch. "This sucks," she said.

Jake nodded. "Not much of a challenge, is it?"

She shook her head. There was no thrill of a hunt, no challenge in getting into Kincaidís apartment without setting off an alarm, no test in capturing her without leaving any evidence for the police to follow, no chance for the girl to fight back in her own home Ė to defend herself on familiar ground - no chance for her to escape on the way to the temple. It was, in fact, no challenge at all. Aresí enemy or no, this was hardly proving to be a test of her many skills. Her loyalty, perhaps, but not her skill. "Like a lamb to the slaughter," she said, thinking out loud.

The Arms Master nodded solemnly.

*******

Harmonn watched in fascination as the blood trickled from Erin Kincaidís nose, pooled slightly on her upper lip, then ran in a trail down the side of her pale face to where it dripped off her chin onto her white t-shirt, staining it crimson. A pleasing contrast of colors, Harmonn thought. The Elijian was sitting on the floor of Jakeís windowless office, hands bound behind her back, feet stretched out in front of her, strapped together with duct tape. She was leaning against the desk with her head slumped forward, still unconscious.

Probably broke her nose, Harmonn thought happily. It was amazing the damage that could be done with a single, well-placed punch. She leaned back in her office chair, stretching her own feet out in front of her. She was looking forward to seeing the girlís reaction when she woke up.

Half an hour went by without any movement from the Elijian, then another. Harmonn drummed her fingers impatiently on Jakeís desk. The blood had stopped trickling long ago, and sheíd lost all interest in watching the girlís nose and lip swell after the first twenty minutes. Her stomach growled, reminding her that sheíd missed lunch. Soon sheíd have to go to work. She grabbed a coffee mug from Jakeís desk and went to find a drinking fountain. Returning with a glass full of cold water, she sat down in her seat again and threw the water in Kincaidís face.

"Wakey, wakey," she said, leaning forward eagerly.

Kincaid moaned once, softly, and her eyelids flickered open. She shook the hair out of her eyes and looked around dazedly before finally focusing on Harmonn.

Harmonn smiled as sudden awareness transformed the blondeís confused expression into one of fear. "Donít even bother trying to escape," she said, slouching back in her chair. "You canít."

The Elijian grimaced, licking her bloody, swollen lip. "Y-you didnít have to hit me," she said quietly.

"Maybe not, but it was fun."

Kincaid swallowed. "Why are you keeping me here?"

Harmonn shrugged. "Iím going to kill you."

The Elijian blanched. "WhyÖ why would you want to do that?"

"I already told you. Ares doesnít like Elijians."

"Thatís hardlyÖ thatísÖ thatís not a reason to kill me."

"Sure it is," Harmonn purred, enjoying her prisonerís discomfiture. "Please feel free to beg for your life. Not that it will do you any good. But I might find it entertaining."

"Several people know where I amÖ theyíll tell the police!"

Harmonn laughed. "By the time they get up the balls to search this temple on a missing persons report, youíll be long dead and disposed of, my dear." She clucked her tongue. "Nope, Iím afraid that the police wonít be much help to you."

The Elijian swallowed hard, then nodded. "Youíre right," she said, meeting Harmonnís eyes. "Iím at your mercy."

It wasnít begging, and that surprised Harmonn. The Elijian was clearly frightened, but she wasnít panicking, and she wasnít blubbering. She was simply acknowledging the truth. Harmonn wasnít sure what she had expected Kincaidís reaction to be, but this wasnít it. "Damn straight," she said harshly. "Problem for you isÖ you know our temple battle cry, donít you?"

The Elijian shook her head.

Harmonn chuckled. "No mercy." She stood up and left the Elijian alone with that thought.

**********

Harmonn glanced at her watch as she trotted up the stairs to the exit leading to the parking lot. Damn, Iím going to be late. Weekday afternoons she worked part-time as a forklift driver at a warehouse near the harbor, while her evenings and weekends were spent as a martial arts instructor at the temple. She liked having her mornings free, and usually the two jobs never overlapped, but today she was going to be late to the warehouse. Not that her boss would complain too much. She had struck just the right balance between charm and intimidation with him. Her subtle flirting kept him thinking about her with his dick, while her temple affiliation kept him scared enough not to mess with her. Just the way she liked it.

She blinked when she stepped out into the sun, slowing her pace slightly to let her eyes adjust to the change in light. Still, despite her impaired vision, she was well aware of a figure approaching her rapidly from one side. She stopped. "Take one more step, and itíll be your last," she growled.

The figure froze, and she saw it was a young man, one of Kincaidís geeky little cronies from the prayer circle that morning.

"IÖ Iím sorry," he said, sticking his hands in his jeans pockets. "IÖ I was just wondering if youíd seen a friend of mineÖ UhÖ She said she was coming to the temple hereÖ" He held one hand up to indicate height. "Sheís about this tall, long blonde hairÖ likes to talk? Her nameís Erin? Have you seen her?"

Harmonn shrugged. "Sorry, kid. Doesnít ring a bell. You sure she came here?"

His shoulders slumped. "Pretty sureÖ butÖ well, sheÖshe was kind of flustered when she left..."

"You her boyfriend?" Harmonn asked, slightly amused by his squirming. He had yet to look her in the eye.

"Huh?" he asked in surprise. He shook his head, rapidly. "Oh no! I meanÖ Erinís not intoÖ I meanÖ she doesnítÖ UhÖ No. Sheís just a good friend."

Not into what? Harmonn wondered. Relationships? Dating? Men? Now thereís an interesting thoughtÖ Too bad she didnít have time to pursue it. "Well, sorry I couldnít help you," she said, and nodded toward her battered Mustang in the parking lot, "But Iím late for work."

"Oh yeahÖ sorry," the kid nodded, stepping back. "Thanks anyway."

"No problem," Harmonn smiled, inwardly disgusted by her own sweetness. She didnít want to put suspicion on herself or the temple by leaving him with a nasty impression. With that, she left him standing forlornly by the door.

*********

Harmonn scanned the shadows surrounding the temple for Kincaidís crony when she pulled into the parking lot later that night. To her disappointment, he didnít appear to be there. Probably got bored and went home. She grabbed the Jack-in-the-Box bag with her dinner in it off the seat next to her and headed for Jakeís office.

Kincaidís head popped up when she opened the door and flipped on the lights. The Elijian looked worse now than she had earlier. Her face was badly bruised on one side and swollen around the nose, and it was apparent sheíd been crying at some point because her eyes were red and puffy, and her nose needed wiping badly.

"Good evening," Harmonn said cheerfully, plopping down on the desk. "I saw one of your little buddies outside the back door this afternoon. Five foot eight, messy brown hair, skinny guy with bulgy eyeballs. He was asking about you."

"Did you hurt him?" Kincaid croaked, her voice coming out scratchy and hoarse.

"Thirsty?" Harmonn asked. The Elijian nodded, and Harmonn let her have a sip of her coke through the straw. "Naw, in fact, I was nice to him. But, I canít vouch for the actions of my fellow warriors. He wasnít there when I got back."

The Elijian stared at her duck-taped feet. "His nameís Bob." She smiled crookedly because of her swollen lip. "We call him Bob the Mighty because heís so good at math and computers. Heís a good friend."

"Boyfriend?" Harmonn asked, cursing herself inwardly for being curious. She shouldnít care. She also knew that the less she learned about the Elijian personally, the easier it would be to kill her the next day. Still, she supposed it didnít hurt to understand how the enemyís mind worked.

Kincaid shook her head slightly. "Iím a lesbian."

Harmonn felt her eyebrows go skyward. Just like that. No beating around the bush. No skulking in the closet. No skirting the issue or avoiding the truth. She wondered if Kincaid ever lied about anything, if she even had anything to hide. Harmonn had been forced to hide her sexual orientation in the military for years, and it was still not something she was comfortable admitting openly to others, particularly strangers. Especially since doing so had gotten her discharged. She bit down that painful thought. "You got a girlfriend, then?"

"No. I, uhÖ. well, I kind of suck at relationships."

Harmonn chuckled as the Elijian blushed.

"Listen," the blonde said uncomfortably, "I really have to go to the bathroom."

Harmonn rolled her eyes and sighed. She supposed she could just let the girl humiliate herself by peeing in her pants, but Jake might not appreciate the smell in his office. She grabbed a penknife off Jakeís desk and set about cutting through the duck tape binding the Elijianís legs. Leaving her hands still bound behind her back, Harmonn pulled the girl to her feet by her shoulder and steadied her when she almost fell over again.

"Thank you," Kincaid said sincerely when she regained her balance.

Harmonn poked her in the back with the penknife and shoved her towards the door. "Get moving."

The Elijian stumbled forward, and Harmonn directed her through the hallway to the rarely used ladyís restroom in the office area. It was a one person restroom, so Harmonn merely opened the door, flipped on the light, and pushed the Elijian into the room, closing the door behind her. "Let me know when youíre done," she said through the door.

There was a moment of silence before she heard Kincaid say, "Um, I canít get my pants down with my hands like this."

Harmonn growled inwardly. What a pain in the butt. She pushed the door open again and entered the small room. "Turn around," she snarled. When the Elijian complied, she began cutting the duck tape binding her hands. Iíll be damned if Iím going to pull her pants down for her. "Guess I donít need to worry about you trying to get free, huh? Iím told that Elijians donít believe in fighting." She ran the point of the penknife down the length of the girlís spine and gleefully watched as Kincaid shivered at the touch.

The Elijian swallowed. "Itís true that we donít believe in violence," she said, rubbing her sore wrists and turning to face Harmonn. "But that doesnít mean we donít believe in fighting for just causes. Though, admittedly, we donít Ďfightí in the same way you do."

"Oh really?" Harmonn asked sarcastically. "And how, pray tell, do you intend to fight your way out of this one, eh?"

"I donít," the Elijian said. "At least not right now. I have really GOT to pee."

Harmonn grinned despite herself. "Okay, okay, I get the hint." She left the Elijian to finish her business and leaned against the wall in the hallway while she waited. Non- violence. She didnít get it. How could anyone live by such a code? It was so foreign as to be incomprehensible.

A few minutes later the Elijian opened the door. "Thanks," she said somewhat sheepishly. Harmonn barely had time to notice that sheíd washed the blood and snot off her face before she attempted to bolt.

"Fuck." With her much longer legs, Harmonn caught her in about five strides and tackled her to the floor. She twisted the girlís arm behind her back until she cried out in pain, then hauled her to her feet. She slammed her face first into the wall. "Try that again, Elijian, and I wonít wait Ďtil tomorrow to kill you."

Kincaidís voice was muffled by the wall. "Sorry. I had to try. Please donít break my arm."

Harmonn twisted harder. "What, you mean like this?"

The Elijian whimpered in pain.

"Now, weíre going back to the office, understand? And youíre not going to give me any problems, are you?" Harmonn purred.

When the Elijian didnít respond immediately, Harmonn grabbed a handful of blonde hair and rammed her face into the wall.

Kincaid groaned, and Harmonn felt her go limp. With a sigh, she lowered the semiconscious girl to the floor and dragged her back to the office by the shoulders, dropping her unceremoniously on the floor beside the desk.

The Elijian curled reflexively into a ball when Harmonn closed the door again and pulled the roll of duct tape out of a drawer in Jakeís desk. The girl didnít struggle when Harmonn began strapping her feet together and grabbed her wrists to pull them behind her back.

Harmonn noticed that the Kincaidís nose was bleeding again and cursed because the blood was dripping onto the floor. "Sit up," she ordered when sheíd finished taping the girlís hands together. "Gods damn it," she swore when the Elijian showed no sign of movement. She grabbed the collar of Kincaidís t-shirt and pulled her into a sitting position, leaning her back against the desk again. "Stay there," she said unnecessarily, trotting down the hall to get some paper towels to clean up the blood on the floor.

The Elijian seemed to become aware of her surroundings again when Harmonn kneeled beside her to wipe the floor. "I thought youíd like blood as decoration," the girl mumbled.

"Donít piss me off," Harmonn warned, standing up and tossing the bloody papers in the wastepaper basket.

Kincaidís head slumped, but she said nothing.

Harmonn sighed after several minutes of silence. "So how did a nice girl like you get caught up with a bunch of fruitcakes like the Elijians?" She said it mockingly, but she was genuinely curious as to what the blondeís answer would be.

Kincaid smiled wistfully. "You know, you can call me by my name. Itís Erin, Erin Kincaid. And I took an honors class in high school that focused on comparative religions. We had to pick a religion to do a major research paper on, and I decided to do mine on Elijian Orthodoxy. I was raised as a Celt, so I was curious about what my father called Ďthat One God nonsense.í"

Harmonn snorted, thinking that Kincaidís father, at least, appeared to have some common sense. Her own father, on the other hand, had been a non-god worshipping Taoist. He was very unusual because most soldiers were fervent worshipers of one kind or another. He might have lived longer if heíd had a god looking out for him. She scowled. And maybe Anne would still be alive if Iíd had one looking out for me. Too bad I hadnít discovered Ares back then.

Kincaid continued, apparently oblivious to Harmonnís bout of introspection. "Of course, my research led me to the Xena Scrolls, written by Gabrielle, who recorded her first-hand experiences with Eli and the Messenger, Eve." She glanced briefly at Harmonn before looking away again quickly. "There was something about those stories that justÖ spoke directly to me. They touched my heart. Even in translation, they were powerful. She wrote with such conviction and compassion."

Harmonn frowned as the Elijian tapered off, staring at the wall, obviously thinking of something else far away. With an inward snarl, Harmonn snapped her fingers, bringing the blondeís attention back to the present. "Gabrielle was a warrior like Xena. A killer. You have nothing in common with her."

Kincaid blinked, refocusing her attention back to Harmonnís face. "Thatís not trueÖ" she began, then blinked again. "Do you know her stories?"

"My favorite book when I was growing up was a collection of tales about Xena." In fact, Xena had long been her inspiration in life. The greatest warrior who ever livedÖ Harmonn understood what the Elijian had meant when sheíd said the stories spoke directly to her heart. Stories about Xena had always stirred her own passion. The woman kicked butt. "I donít remember them mentioning diddly about Eli, though."

The Elijian made a face. "Selective editing. Most compilations of Gabrielleís scrolls leave out the stories about Eli and Eve because western editors are biasedÖwith a few exceptions like the translations by M. Pappas. Did you know that Xena was Eveís mother?"

Xenaíd been a mother? "Who in Aresí name is Eve? And why should I give a flying flip?"

"Eve was the Messenger of the One God. She single-handedly converted all of India and large parts of current China to Elijian Orthodoxy. Did you know that there are more Orthodox Elijians in the world than any other single religion?"

Harmonn felt her temper rising fast. "Thatís bullshit."

Kincaid shook her head. "Nope, itís fact. Historically, the lower castes in India took to the religion like ducks to the water because Eli preached the equality of all people. And the castes came tumbling downÖ"

"Too bad. All people arenít equal. There are leaders, and there are sheep. There are victors, and there are losersÖ"

"There are victimsÖ and victimizers," the blonde added quietly. "But theyíre all just people. They are equal in their humanity, despite their differences. And at the heart of it, all people have more in common than not. They just want to be loved and appreciated for who and what they are."

Harmonn laughed derisively. "Yeah, right."

"Itís true, though. Think about it. Even you and me. Weíre sitting here, despite our differences, connecting and communicating. We understand each other. We may not agree with each other, but we understand each other."

"Thatís because weíre both Americans, not because weíre both human." And I do NOT understand you.

"But itís more than just culture. Itís likeÖ I know what it means when youíre scowling, and I know what it means when you smile. Smiles are universal. Emotion is universal in humanity, despite the different ways it is expressed, and we all understand its impact on behavior. All people learn to speak languages, even if the languages themselves arenít the same. Thereís so much about people that is the same irregardless of what culture they grow up in. You know, sexual lust is a human conditionÖ"

Harmonn smirked until she realized that was what the Elijian had wanted. "You talk too much."

Kincaid grimaced. "Iím sorry. IÖIíve been told that before. But Iím right, arenít I?"

Harmonn rolled her eyes. "Okay, so all people have a lot in common. Itís the differences that are important."

"Itís the similarities that form the basis for understanding."

"Who gives a shit about understanding?!" Harmonn exploded.

The Elijian smiled ruefully. "I do."

"I donít give a shit about you!"

"Thatís too bad," the Elijian said honestly. "You know, maybe in different lives, or different circumstances, we could be friends."

Harmonn couldnít believe her ears. She leaned forward, looking Kincaid in the eye. "Iím going to crucify you tomorrow. You know that?"

The Elijian paled.

Harmonn smiled. "Oh yes. Thatís what Ares asked me to do. Thatís how youíre gunna die. Now, knowing that, do you think we could still be friends?"

Kincaid didnít answer, looking ashen and stunned. Harmonn thought she might even be shaking. Satisfied at having intimidated the girl into silence, she stood up, stretching luxuriously. "Have a nice night, Kincaid. Itíll be your last." She turned at the door and smiled broadly. "See you tomorrow."

"W-wait, please" the Elijian said before she could leave.

Harmonn stopped, raising one eyebrow.

"Could I have a drink of water before you go, please?" the girl asked softly.

Harmonn pursed her lips for a moment as if considering the idea. "No," she said lightly, then slammed the door behind her.

Continue to Part 2