~ Temple of Rage ~
by Leslie Ann Miller


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."

I'm quite fascinated by the peace versus violence dynamic, particularly in relation to Gabrielle's path. In the show, and in most other fanfic stories I've 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 didn't do this. This is my feeble attempt at exploring that possibility, and I even got to combine it with another favorite fascination - 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 ole' 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 gunhilda@brightok.net

"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 Ares' 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 didn't know why her god, Ares, disliked the Elijians so much, but it didn't 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 Ares' history. All that mattered was that he was here, now, carefully supervising the many followers who'd flocked to his temples in recent years. They'd 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. Intimidation? 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 Harmonn's 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 didn't 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 couldn't 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 wasn't 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 didn't piss off Ares' 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 country's stance on freedom of religion, many states had banned Ares' 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 Ares' 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 state's 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 states' 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 didn't 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 Valkyries' horses couldn't fly, or that Hitler hadn't used the Rheingold against the Allies in World War II. For gods' 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 couldn't 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. "Don't give in to the violence, hatred and anger!" it proclaimed. "Come find the peace offered by Eli and the One True God." It included today's 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 they'd 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 hadn't 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 didn't 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 didn't really need to add anything to what was already an uncomfortable situation for their new recruits? of whom she counted two.

"Hey Elijians!" one of the hecklers called. "How do you know there's 'One God' when you never see him?"

"Yeah, maybe you should call him the 'None God,' 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 couldn't 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 weren't simply so damn cute and perky. Yecht. Harmonn certainly couldn't see any appeal in the religion itself.

Ares was wise to want her gone.

A tall, sandy-haired man wearing a miniature Thor's 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, don'cha 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 Harmonn's 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 Ares' 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 god's 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.

"I'm 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 Harmonn's mind. All she could do was stare. Her god was here. This was Ares. Ares was speaking to her. She couldn't believe it.

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

The fiery glow between Ares' fingers barely registered in Harmonn's 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 she'd 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 wasn't 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. "That's more like it," he said. "I like it when you're angry."

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

"What's 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 seemed? appropriate."

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

"Of course not," Harmonn said quickly. She didn't 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 don't need my help. Don't ask for it. You won't get it. Lesson number two: I don't give blessings. I shed blood. Sometimes, when I feel like it, I bestow my favor on talented warriors. If you ask for it, you won't 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. "Yes? Ares."

The god grinned. "That's 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 god's 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 didn't 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. She'd 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.

"You've 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 Harmonn's 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 god's 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. She'd 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 Ares' 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 didn't like fighting with glaives, or pole weapons of any sort, for that matter, but she didn't have time to pick and choose.

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

Seeing as she'd 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 Zeus's name was with that last attack?" he asked.

Harmonn swallowed, trying to catch her breath. "I? I don't 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.

"There's your problem," he said. "You're right handed, and you're starting left foot forward. That's fine if you're a man, but," he smirked, "obviously you're not. You're 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 don't work like a man's. 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. "Women's bodies don't work the same as men's. Women have different hand grips, different joints, different hips. You have to take that into account in their training. Their mind-set isn't the same, either. Different psychology." He snorted. "I learned that a long time ago, didn't I? So I'll teach you, and you'll teach them. Don't fail me, Harmonn," he said, "I'm 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 didn't phase her. "I had a visit from Ares," she said.

The big man didn't seem surprised. In fact, he grinned. "How'd you do?"

"I held my own," she said with a shrug. Judging from Jake's reaction, this visit wasn't unexpected after all. It was obviously a test, and she gathered she had passed.

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

"I thought I'd 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 haven't 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 shouldn't be able to survive long enough to be rescued. But that's 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, I'll call for a general assembly of warriors tomorrow. The whole temple can watch. And I'll get some of the guys to build the cross for you. You shouldn't have to mess with that before your big day."

"Thanks, that'd 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 fuckin' 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 don't 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 you're prepared for it. I want to know that you're ready."

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

"Good," the big man nodded. "Why don't?." 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 everyone's attention was focused on the main entrance at the bottom of the stairway leading to the street.

"What in gods' names?" Jake muttered.

Harmonn couldn't believe her eyes. Standing just inside the heavy door, running her hand awkwardly through her long, blonde hair, was none other than Erin Kincaid.


"I'll handle this," Harmonn said, feeling the anger rising in her system. This wasn't 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.


"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 Ares' name do you think you're 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. "I? I don't really know, actually," she stammered, forcing a smile. "I was? 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 mean? 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 - 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 lion's den when they were currently plotting her demise? She didn't think the Elijians were into blood sacrifices, but fear could cause people - 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 she'd 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 you've been sent as a sacrifice to pacify his anger against Eli."

Kincaid paled visibly. "Eli isn't 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 hadn't heard the story before, but it would certainly explain the cult's obsession with the war god, as well as Ares' own dislike for the Elijians. "Well, I guess Eli has decided it's 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 don't you take her to my office," Jake said, nodding in the direction of the door leading to the administrative office complex. "We'll 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 Kincaid's 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 - 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. Ares' 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 Kincaid's 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 Jake's 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 girl's reaction when she woke up.

Half an hour went by without any movement from the Elijian, then another. Harmonn drummed her fingers impatiently on Jake's desk. The blood had stopped trickling long ago, and she'd lost all interest in watching the girl's nose and lip swell after the first twenty minutes. Her stomach growled, reminding her that she'd missed lunch. Soon she'd have to go to work. She grabbed a coffee mug from Jake's 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 Kincaid's 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 blonde's confused expression into one of fear. "Don't even bother trying to escape," she said, slouching back in her chair. "You can't."

The Elijian grimaced, licking her bloody, swollen lip. "Y-you didn't have to hit me," she said quietly.

"Maybe not, but it was fun."

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

Harmonn shrugged. "I'm going to kill you."

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

"I already told you. Ares doesn't like Elijians."

"That's hardly? that's? that's not a reason to kill me."

"Sure it is," Harmonn purred, enjoying her prisoner's 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 am? they'll tell the police!"

Harmonn laughed. "By the time they get up the balls to search this temple on a missing persons report, you'll be long dead and disposed of, my dear." She clucked her tongue. "Nope, I'm afraid that the police won't be much help to you."

The Elijian swallowed hard, then nodded. "You're right," she said, meeting Harmonn's eyes. "I'm at your mercy."

It wasn't begging, and that surprised Harmonn. The Elijian was clearly frightened, but she wasn't panicking, and she wasn't blubbering. She was simply acknowledging the truth. Harmonn wasn't sure what she had expected Kincaid's reaction to be, but this wasn't it. "Damn straight," she said harshly. "Problem for you is? you know our temple battle cry, don't 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, I'm 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 it'll be your last," she growled.

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

"I? I'm sorry," he said, sticking his hands in his jeans pockets. "I? I was just wondering if you'd seen a friend of mine? Uh? She said she was coming to the temple here?" He held one hand up to indicate height. "She's about this tall, long blonde hair? likes to talk? Her name's Erin? Have you seen her?"

Harmonn shrugged. "Sorry, kid. Doesn't ring a bell. You sure she came here?"

His shoulders slumped. "Pretty sure? but? well, she?she 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 mean? Erin's not into? I mean? she doesn't? Uh? No. She's just a good friend."

Not into what? Harmonn wondered. Relationships? Dating? Men? Now there's an interesting thought? Too bad she didn't have time to pursue it. "Well, sorry I couldn't help you," she said, and nodded toward her battered Mustang in the parking lot, "But I'm late for work."

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

"No problem," Harmonn smiled, inwardly disgusted by her own sweetness. She didn't 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 Kincaid's crony when she pulled into the parking lot later that night. To her disappointment, he didn't 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 Jake's office.

Kincaid's 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 she'd 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 can't vouch for the actions of my fellow warriors. He wasn't there when I got back."

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

"Boyfriend?" Harmonn asked, cursing herself inwardly for being curious. She shouldn't 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 didn't hurt to understand how the enemy's mind worked.

Kincaid shook her head slightly. "I'm 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, uh?. 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 Jake's desk and set about cutting through the duck tape binding the Elijian's 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 lady's 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 you're done," she said through the door.

There was a moment of silence before she heard Kincaid say, "Um, I can't 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. I'll be damned if I'm going to pull her pants down for her. "Guess I don't need to worry about you trying to get free, huh? I'm told that Elijians don't believe in fighting." She ran the point of the penknife down the length of the girl's spine and gleefully watched as Kincaid shivered at the touch.

The Elijian swallowed. "It's true that we don't believe in violence," she said, rubbing her sore wrists and turning to face Harmonn. "But that doesn't mean we don't believe in fighting for just causes. Though, admittedly, we don't 'fight' 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 don't," 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 didn't 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 she'd 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 girl's 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 won't wait 'til tomorrow to kill you."

Kincaid's voice was muffled by the wall. "Sorry. I had to try. Please don't break my arm."

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

The Elijian whimpered in pain.

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

When the Elijian didn't 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 Jake's desk. The girl didn't struggle when Harmonn began strapping her feet together and grabbed her wrists to pull them behind her back.

Harmonn noticed that the Kincaid's nose was bleeding again and cursed because the blood was dripping onto the floor. "Sit up," she ordered when she'd finished taping the girl's hands together. "Gods damn it," she swore when the Elijian showed no sign of movement. She grabbed the collar of Kincaid's 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 you'd like blood as decoration," the girl mumbled.

"Don't piss me off," Harmonn warned, standing up and tossing the bloody papers in the wastepaper basket.

Kincaid's 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 blonde's answer would be.

Kincaid smiled wistfully. "You know, you can call me by my name. It's 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 'that One God nonsense.'"

Harmonn snorted, thinking that Kincaid's 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 he'd had a god looking out for him. She scowled. And maybe Anne would still be alive if I'd had one looking out for me. Too bad I hadn't discovered Ares back then.

Kincaid continued, apparently oblivious to Harmonn's 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 just? 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 blonde's 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 Harmonn's face. "That's not true?" 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 lived? Harmonn understood what the Elijian had meant when she'd said the stories spoke directly to her heart. Stories about Xena had always stirred her own passion. The woman kicked butt. "I don't remember them mentioning diddly about Eli, though."

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

Xena'd been a mother? "Who in Ares' 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. "That's bullshit."

Kincaid shook her head. "Nope, it's 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 down?"

"Too bad. All people aren't equal. There are leaders, and there are sheep. There are victors, and there are losers?"

"There are victims? and victimizers," the blonde added quietly. "But they're 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."

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

"That's because we're both Americans, not because we're both human." And I do NOT understand you.

"But it's more than just culture. It's like? I know what it means when you're 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 aren't the same. There's so much about people that is the same irregardless of what culture they grow up in. You know, sexual lust is a human condition?"

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

Kincaid grimaced. "I'm sorry. I?I've been told that before. But I'm right, aren't I?"

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

"It's the similarities that form the basis for understanding."

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

The Elijian smiled ruefully. "I do."

"I don't give a shit about you!"

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

Harmonn couldn't believe her ears. She leaned forward, looking Kincaid in the eye. "I'm going to crucify you tomorrow. You know that?"

The Elijian paled.

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

Kincaid didn't 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. It'll 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.


"Hiya sexy warrior chick," someone said laughingly, interrupting her thoughts.

Harmonn looked up, surprised to see Jez still set up in front of her apartment building. She glanced at her watch. It was almost ten o'clock.

"Better be careful, sweet-cheeks, deep thoughts suit you, but they'll also take you unexpected places."

Harmonn scowled. "A bit late for you to be out, isn't it?" she asked sourly.

"I was waiting for you," the fortuneteller smiled.

"I'm not interested in anything you have to offer," Harmonn said, turning at the entrance to her building.

"Aphrodite asked me to give you a message."

Harmonn froze. What in gods' names? She turned around slowly. Jez was watching her with an inscrutable expression on her face. "Well?" she demanded irritably.

The fortuneteller cocked her head to one side. "She said, 'Tell Harmonn not to fall into my brother's trap.'"

Trap? "Her brother? You mean Ares?"

Jez shrugged. "I'm just the messenger girl, not the interpreter."

"Why on earth would Aphrodite give a shit about me?"

Jez rubbed the side of her nose thoughtfully. "Actually, I asked myself the same thing." She tapped a deck of cards on her table. "It's not my place really," she said hesitantly, "but I did a reading on you. The results were?. interesting."

Harmonn rolled her eyes. "I don't believe in that crap, Jez, and you know it." Normally, that would have been her cue to leave. But, though she was loath to admit it, her conversation with Kincaid had been unsettling, and she was feeling a bit like a stranger to herself. Ungrounded. Upended. She waited for the fortuneteller to continue, almost dreading what she had to say.

Jez must have seen it, somehow, because her face softened. "You wanna sit down, honey?" she asked, gesturing to the chair on the other side of the table.

Harmonn looked around, worried that someone she knew might see her. If anyone from the temple saw her sitting at a gypsy's table getting her fortune told, she'd be a laughing stock. But the street was empty. Unnaturally so. Telegraph Avenue was never deserted, but there was nobody near for blocks.

"It's a sign," Jez said quietly. "No one's going to see you. Besides, I've already done the reading. We're just having a chat."

Harmonn walked around the table and sank into the chair wearily. "You're the one talking. Make it fast."

"The cards told me you're standing at a crossroads. A choice of paths."

"Every action is a choice of paths."

Jez smiled, and nodded. "True. Very wise of you. Most people don't understand that. But, for some reason, the universe appears to think this is a very important choice. Not just for you, but for many, many people."

"The universe, huh? Not Aphrodite?"

"Aphrodite can't predict the future, Harmonn. Few gods can with great accuracy. Only some, like the Fates, can tap that knowledge. These cards were blessed by the Fates, and while most of the time they're still difficult to interpret, this reading was unusually clear."

Harmonn snorted. What a crock. "Yeah, yeah, so what did your stupid cards say about me?"

"Two paths. Down one you'll find power, wealth, and influence. Blood. Upheaval. Domination. The overthrow of governments."

Harmonn smiled. "Sounds good to me!" Particularly if that would be the US government. "And the other?"


"Love?" she asked, incredulous. "Love? That's all? What kind of a choice is that?"

Jez gave her a disgusted look. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, warrior."

"You're as bad as those damned Elijians," Harmonn said, standing up abruptly. "Been there, done that, didn't like it. Thanks for nothing."

Jez stood as well, and caught her arm as she passed. "Wait," she said, and Harmonn was startled by the note of desperation in her voice.

The fortuneteller released her arm apologetically. "Sorry, I know you don't like being touched. But let me put it to you in a different way, Harmonn. It's a choice of misery versus a choice of happiness. That sounds a little different, doesn't it?"

"I don't see how power, wealth, and influence could possibly give me anything but happiness...so maybe you've got your interpretation of my paths down all wrong."

"Don't play the fool with me," Jez said, using the harshest tone of voice Harmonn had ever heard her use. "I don't believe that for a second, and neither do you. Not many people are given signposts written in GREAT BIG CAPITAL LETTERS when they reach the important crossroads in their lives. Most of us have to muck through with our eyes closed, hoping we make the right decisions at the right time. You're lucky, warrior. Somebody upstairs obviously cares for you. Don't waste the warning."

"Ares cares for me," Harmonn spat angrily. "And he'll help me get what I want."

"Ares is a trap. Don't waste your life."

That pissed Harmonn off. She wasn't wasting her life. She was trying to make her life worthwhile. She shoved Jez backwards with both hands, and the fortuneteller went sprawling on her table, knocking cards and glass vials onto the sidewalk. Harmonn turned away and unlocked the door to her building.

"Did that make you feel better, Harmonn?" the fortuneteller asked before she could get inside. "'Cause whatever it is you're feeling now, you'd better get used to it."

Harmonn stepped into the hall without looking back and slammed the door behind her. Rage. That was what she was feeling now. Rage and hatred for everyone and everything. She punched the sheet rock wall beside her and watched as her hand disappeared into it up to her wrist. She pulled it out, covered in chalky white dust, a fist sized-hole left behind. Her knuckles didn't even hurt.

At the top of the stairs she pulled out her keys and began unlocking the many deadbolts to her door. She wondered briefly if Kincaid even bothered to lock her door. "Please come right in. Take my money. Take my things. Take my love. Take my life." When she finally opened the door, she quickly turned off the alarm by typing in her password on the keypad. Stupid Elijian. Stupid, stupid, stupid. How could anyone live like that?

She recalled Erin's smiling, untroubled face during the prayer circle that morning. She certainly seemed happy enough.

Just like Anne. Happy. Until I came along.

Harmonn kicked an old pizza box off the sofa and collapsed on the threadbare cushions, propping her feet up on the armrest. Anne. She closed her eyes and pictured her dead lover's smiling face. Anne had been Harmonn's ideal woman, tall, redhead, athletic, ambitious. She looked damned good in a uniform, and she was the only woman who had ever kicked her butt in hand-to-hand combat. She'd been a paradox - tough, yet gentle; fiery, yet kind. Two years Harmonn's senior, she had taught Harmonn much about life and leadership in the military. She'd shared more than just an office with Anne. She'd shared her heart and soul.

Harmonn didn't believe in love at first site, but she and Anne had hit it off immediately. They'd both laughed at the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. They didn't have to ask to know that they were attracted to each other. They didn't have to tell. The connection was electric, the sex was great. They'd both been officers, making it somewhat easier to sustain a relationship, but all that had ended after an off-base car accident one snowy Saturday night.

Harmonn had been driving. Anne had been killed. Harmonn had fallen to pieces afterwards, and, when her father refused to understand the level of guilt and grief she'd felt at the loss, she'd confessed to him that they'd been lovers. She'd been summarily discharged from the Army - and her father's life - all in one fell swoop. She hadn't even gone to his funeral after he'd been killed in action a year later.

She'd lost everything when Anne died; she'd been betrayed by Fate, by family, and by her country. Only Ares had given her reason to continue living. The temple had literally taken her in off the streets. They'd given her an outlet for her bitter anger, promising her the possibility of revenge and giving her another place to belong. As an Arms Master, she would have Ares' protection and guidance in tearing down the establishment that had rejected her and punished her for being who and what she was. For loving Anne. For mourning her. For missing her.

Harmonn felt hot tears running down her face for the first time since she'd received her discharge papers.

"I'm sorry I killed you, Anne," she whispered to the darkness for the first time in years, hoping again that somehow, somewhere, her lover's ghost would hear her and forgive.


It was raining in the morning when Harmonn woke after a restless night. She peered out her small kitchen window at the gloomy gray sky as she poured the milk into her cereal bowl. She had expected to feel a sense of destiny on this day, perhaps even euphoria. This was her day to prove herself to Ares and the other members of the temple. Tonight she would be an Arms Master. It was to be a day of triumph and success.

But all she really felt was? numbness. There was no excitement, no hint of butterflies in her stomach. Perhaps it was the lack of challenge of it all. Hammering a few nails into a passive victim didn't seem like a test worthy of Ares' notice. The whole thing was just a letdown.

She snorted to herself and munched her cereal quietly, watching the water drip from the eaves of the roof. Yet who was she to question Ares' will? Maybe she was too soft deep down inside, and this was Ares' way to test her resolve and toughness. She'd cried about Anne the night before. That was a sign of weakness. It was a sign of insecurity. Life was hard. She knew that. She understood it first hand. Only the strong would survive and succeed.

She would just have to be strong today and do what she had to do. Her path was with Ares, of that she was certain. If she started to doubt that now, what would she have left?

She looked around her small, neat apartment; at the worn, practical furniture and the bare walls. It was bereft of decoration or personality save for the pizza box still lying abandoned on the floor. She'd left the military with all of her belongings in two duffle bags, and she hadn't bothered to collect many since, throwing herself into the pursuit of power and success in the temple rather than immediate monetary luxuries. She knew instinctively that those would follow soon enough. I don't even have anything here worth stealing, she realized belatedly.

The answer to her question was surrounding her. Without Ares' temple, she had nothing.

Nothing at all.


The rain kept many of the street vendors away, and Jez was nowhere to be seen when Harmonn stepped out into the dull, damp day. She stopped at liquor store to get some champagne for the celebration afterwards - just enough for a small, private party, rather than the entire temple - and went by a hardware store to get a handful of spikes and a heavy mallet. She knew that Jake and the other Arms Masters would want her to choose her own weapons to use for this particular occasion.

It was almost noon when she finally arrived at the temple, and the parking lot in back was nearly full. Word was out, and the warriors of Ares were here to watch the crucifixion in force.

Harmonn was greeted cheerfully by several of her students when she entered the main hall, and Arms Master Hershel showed her the t-shaped cross that had been made yesterday out of landscaping timbers. She grunted in satisfaction, pleased by the solid construction. The cross itself would be hung from a temporary scaffold erected beside Ares' throne on the dais.

After completing her inspection, she headed for Mellor's office. She met the big man himself in the hallway.

"How is she?" Harmonn asked, nodding her chin in the direction of his office door.

"Well, I let her go to the bathroom a few hours ago, but she didn't seem inclined to talk," he grinned. "I think you broke her nose yesterday. Nice punch."

"Thanks!" Harmonn smiled. "I was just going to check on her. When do you want this to happen?"

"You ready?"

"Sure." She held up the brown sack with the mallet and nails. "Got everything I need."

Jake took the bag from her and peeked inside. He took out one of the nails and looked at it. "A bit thin. We'll have to tie her to the beams in advance. These'll tear through her hands."

"I looked for spikes, but they didn't have any. These were the biggest I could find."

"They'll do. The Romans used to tie their sacrifices to the cross anyway," the Arms Master shrugged. "I'll go get things ready in the hall and come get you when it's time to go. I haven't seen Jackson yet." Jackson was the third Arms Master associated with the Berkeley temple. "He shouldn't be long, though."

Harmonn nodded, then headed for the office. "Good afternoon," she said, opening the door with a smile.

Kincaid looked up listlessly. "Is it?" she asked softly.

"For me," Harmonn grinned.

"My death means that much to you?"

"Yup. See, I kill you, and Ares makes me an Arms Master. One of the temple elite. I've spent the past five years working towards this day."

"Ah. I must have been doing something right for Ares to take special notice of me. Or was I just a random choice?"

Harmonn's initial reaction was to lie, to dismiss her importance by saying it was all just random choice. But, if nothing else, Kincaid's death was a sacred moment for the temple of Ares, and, one hoped, an important point in the conflict between the temple and the cult of Eli. By calling it a random choice, she would be belittling the significance of the event. "No, you were chosen to die by Ares earlier in the week." She chuckled. "And apparently by Eli, too."

Kincaid was silent.

"You know, I am curious. Why do you think Eli sent you here? I know what I think?"

"Eli has his reasons."

"Yeah, right."

"I have faith."

Harmonn grinned, sensing the potential for some fun. "Let's test that, shall we?" She pulled her switchblade out of her boot and cut the tape binding the girl's feet. "Get up," she said, pulling Kincaid to her feet. She then cut the tape around the Elijian's hands, freeing her completely.

After positioning herself in front of the door, Harmonn held the knife out to her handle first. "Tell you what, I'll let you go if you can get past me. Fight for your freedom, Elijian."

Kincaid covered her face with her hands, shaking her head. "I? I can't."

"Why not?"

"I'll be happy to walk out that door," she said slowly, letting her hands drop to her sides, "but I won't fight you to get there."

"You're fucking crazy, you know that? You're going to die. I'm going to kill you. And you won't even fight me for your own life?" Harmonn simply couldn't comprehend it. It went against everything, everything she knew and understood. Harmonn slapped the girl's face, hoping to knock some sense into her? to get a reaction of some sort, any sort.

Kincaid staggered, then straightened, blinking tears from her eyes. Harmonn could see the red outline of her hand on the girl's cheek. With deliberate slowness, the Elijian turned her other cheek to the warrior.

"What are you doing?" Harmonn breathed.

"Offering you the other ch-cheek."

Harmonn could tell from her voice that she was trying hard not to cry. "You won't defend yourself, will you?"

"Not with weapons. Not with violence."

"Not even in self defense? You wouldn't kill me in self defense? Gods above, even the law says you can kill in self defense!"

"Eli says, 'Thou shalt not kill.' He doesn't say, 'Thou shalt not kill, except in self defense.' Killing is wrong. Violence is not the answer."

"That depends entirely on what the question is," Harmonn snorted in disbelief. "If you're not willing to kill to defend yourself, what's to stop the bad guys from taking over?"

A single tear ran down Kincaid's face. "The bad guys like you?" She tried to smile. "Like Ares? Hatred will never cease by hatred. It can only be healed by love. If more people understood that, we wouldn't have to fight. I?I... how do I make you understand that?"

Harmonn fought the urge to punch her again. Instead, she grabbed Erin by the neck. "You're full of crap, Elijian." She forced the girl down to her knees before releasing her. "Fight for your life."

Kincaid gasped for breath before looking up again. "You don't get it? so few people get it?" she smiled crookedly, "we're all connected, we're all? the same? I'm you? you're me? we're two fingers on the same hand. Your motto? divide and conquer? anything that separates us, draws lines between us, keeps us apart? hatred, bigotry, prejudice?even religions that preach 'we're right, and you're wrong?' all of these things keep us from knowing the truth of our connection and trap us in misery and the cycle of violence. I'm not going there. Not to save my life. Not for anything. I have faith. Faith in Eli, faith in Love. Eli died to deliver his message, and so will I."

Harmonn leaned forward. "And what is your message, Kincaid?"

The girl didn't answer for a moment, obviously searching for the right response. Suddenly, she smiled. "That I love you."

Harmonn's mind boggled. She couldn't be serious. She couldn't. But she could see the truth shining brightly in the girl's eyes.

No more games, she told herself, swallowing. Without lifting a hand, Kincaid had just assaulted her with a weapon more dangerous than any gun, and she knew it. That crossroads that Jez had spoken of last night, here it was again. "You don't even know me. How could you possibly love me?"

"The same way Eli loved all people? It doesn't have anything to do with knowing or not knowing. It's just a way of being? it's? it's like? it's like this temple? this temple is full of hatred and anger. I could feel it the moment I stepped in the door. And? and your body is like a temple. What is it full of? Mine is full of love? for you, for my cats, my next-door neighbor, for everyone and everything."

"It's full of shit. And it damned well ought to be full of fear," Harmonn snarled.

Erin swallowed. "Oh, there's that, too. If it makes you feel better, I'm truly terrified." The next sentence came out a whisper, almost a plea. "I don't want to die."

Harmonn stared at her, shocked by the confession. The girl admitted she was afraid to die, and yet she was still willing to do so? for her beliefs, for her ideals.

That took courage even Harmonn had to respect.

This Elijian, this young woman before her was an open book. She was genuine? a genuinely nice person. And though she hadn't said it, Harmonn sensed that she loved life perhaps above all else on that list of things she'd mentioned.

In contrast, Harmonn hated her life. She also recognized that she kept everything locked up and hidden behind a myriad of walls, both metaphorical and real. Memories, pain, emotions. Did she even have any idea who she really was? What she really wanted? What she even felt? Rage, yes. That was perhaps the only real thing she acknowledged. Anger enabled her to go on? to not give in to despair? it gave her purpose and a reason to live.

She wondered, briefly, what and who she might find if she ever let those walls and barriers down again. What would happen if she opened up? Could she ever be like Erin Kincaid and love her life? Love? anything? again?

I love pizza, she thought. If I love pizza, I can love other things.

I could love Erin Kincaid. It was true, she realized, staring at the open, heartbreakingly beautiful face looking up at her with despairing sea-green eyes. How could you not? She looked like a lost puppy. "I'm sorry," she said slowly, and was surprised to find she meant it. "But this is something I have to do."

As if on cue, there came a knock on the door.

"Come in," Harmonn said.

Arms Master Mellor poked his head in the door. "We're all set."

Harmonn tucked the knife into her boot and grabbed Erin's arm. "Time's up," she said.

Erin's face paled by several shades, and Harmonn reflected that the saying, "white as a sheet," was surprisingly accurate. The girl was also apparently either unable or unwilling to stand, even with Harmonn's assistance, so she glanced at Jake. "She's not going anywhere on her own."

The big man snorted, and grabbed the Elijian's other arm. Together they pulled her to her feet and hauled her, stumbling, to the door.

"P-Please," the girl stuttered, "You don't have to do this?" She resisted weakly as they dragged her along the corridor leading to the inner sanctum.

Harmonn could feel eyes on her face, pleading, but she refused to look. She said nothing, concentrating on the task at hand.

"Please? I haven't done anything to you?"

"Shut up, Elijian," Jake warned, and Kincaid gasped as he squeezed her arm painfully. "I'd be more than happy to cut your tongue out if you keep blubbering."

The girl remained silent until they pulled her into the inner sanctum. The Elijian's knees gave out when she saw the cross laid out in front of Ares' empty throne "Eli help me," she whispered.

"Eli ain't gunna do shit in this temple," Jake said, dragging her forward.

The temple loyal were gathered on either side of the hall, leaving the center space in front of the throne free. Their eagerness to witness the event to come was clear, and the air buzzed with excited energy. Someone began to beat a drum as Harmonn helped haul the terrified girl towards the cross. The warrior's heartbeat picked up, and she felt a familiar surge of adrenaline when the other followers began to stamp their feet in rhythm to the drum.

Arms Masters Jackson and Hershel stepped forward when they reached the cross. Hershel held the mallet and three nails. Jackson held lengths of coiled rope.

"Oh god, oh god, oh god," Kincaid stammered, and Harmonn could feel her start to tremble.

"Strip her naked," Jake suggested. "Let's watch her blush."

"No," Harmonn said firmly, wondering why she didn't want the Elijian humiliated before she died. What difference did it make?

The Arms Master raised an eyebrow, but shrugged. "Your show."

Harmonn nodded at Jackson, and they traded places. She took the mallet and nails from Hershel, then took her place at the head of the cross. She lifted her hand for silence.

The drums stopped, and the hall fell quiet. Harmonn turned to face the throne. "Mighty Ares, hear my call!"

With a roll of thunder and a flash of light, the god appeared in front of Harmonn, standing. "Yes?" he drawled.

Harmonn sank to her knees. "I come before you today to prove my worth by sacrificing your enemy as you have commanded."

Ares grinned, and looked past Harmonn to the Elijian. He hopped down off the platform and approached the girl. "Well, well, well. Look who we have here!" He tried to run his finger down the side of her face, but she shrank from his touch despite the Arms Masters' tight grip on her arms. Ares laughed. "Scared?"

"Not of you," Kincaid said with a surprising degree of defiance.

"Then why are you shaking?" Ares chuckled.

"Because I'm?I'm afraid of pain. But I guess that's not something you'd understand, is it?"

"You're wrong," Ares said quietly in her face, then turned away. For an instant, Harmonn swore the god of war looked regretful, but then he stepped back up on the dais and turned to face his followers, raising his arms towards the ceiling. "Two thousand years ago, a bumbling charlatan by the name of Eli had the audacity to defy me by preaching to the common people about embracing the path of peace. I killed him. Two thousand years later, his followers have started a campaign against me again. I think they need to be taught a lesson they apparently failed to learn two thousand years ago: to defy me is to die. It's time to remind the complacent masses of this fact.

"Yes, indeed. The god of war is back! It's time for warriors to rule the world again, not fat, lazy politicians who are given their power by cowardly sheep who are too weak to lead themselves. Today begins with the death of a single - weak - enemy. Tomorrow will see the downfall of the so-called democratic governments of world so that the strong may rule again. Divide and conquer!"

He sat back down on his throne and pointed at Harmonn. "Let the fun begin!"

A ragged cheer went up as the three Arms Masters unceremoniously dropped the Elijian onto the cross. She didn't struggle against them, but Harmonn could see the tension in her body as they began securing her ankles and wrists to the wooden beams. She almost seemed resigned to her fate except for one tear that ran down the side of her face as she stared up blankly at the high ceiling. Her lips moved as if she were whispering to herself, and it occurred to Harmonn that she must be praying.

"Well, lookie here," Jake chuckled as they pulled off the girl's shoes and socks. "She came prepared? already got a bull's-eye on her foot for you, Harmonn - perfect for putting a nail through."

Harmonn leaned forward to see what the big man was talking about and saw a decorative circle tattooed on the top of Kincaid's bare right foot. Below it was a small cross making it look like a distorted symbol for woman. For some reason the image disturbed her, and she looked away after forcing an appropriate smirk at Jake. "I never have trouble hitting the hole," she said smoothly, and the three men laughed.

The Arms Masters stood up and moved to one side when they finished positioning and securing the girl's feet. Harmonn stepped forward, nail and mallet in hand. She knelt beside Kincaid's left hand and pushed the point of the nail against the pale skin of her palm. The Elijian closed her eyes and turned her head away.

"Any last words?" Harmonn asked.

"He'll betray you," Kincaid said softly, turning her green eyes to meet hers.


"Ares. He'll betray you. I don't know how or why, but somehow I do know he will."

"Fuck you," Harmonn snarled, and raised the mallet.

"Oh yeah!" Ares said. "Do it, baby!"

Harmonn swung. She felt the hammer connect with the head of the nail, driving it downward. She felt the difference in resistance as the nail drove first through flesh and then into the harder wood beneath it. She watched the shudder run through Erin Kincaid's body, saw the girl writhe against the bonds holding her in place as her blonde head flew back in agony. She heard the gut-wrenching cry of pain pierce the silence of the temple and the carefully constructed walls surrounding her soul.

She raised the hammer for a second blow. She saw her hand shaking, knuckles white as she grasped the wooden handle. She heard the God of War laughing. And in that instant - in the sound of that laughter - Harmonn Sharpe realized with startling clarity that what she was doing was wrong.

She froze, conflicting desires and thoughts warring for domination in her consciousness.

"Finish the job, Harmonn," Ares purred. "I promise you my favor."

"What the blazes does that mean?" Harmonn wondered briefly in confusion.

Conquest. Glory. The overthrow of governments. Jez's words came back to her.

Misery. Anger. Emptiness. Another voice spoke in her mind. Betrayal.

She looked at Erin, wondering what Eli would have to say about this, but the girl's eyes were tightly closed, and the tears were now streaming down her face. Her chest heaved as she panted for breath.

Harmonn recognized that Kincaid was going into shock. The girl hadn't eaten in over a day, and she'd been knocked unconscious, beaten, and now had a nail driven through her hand. It was hardly any wonder her body was shutting down. It was doubtful she'd survive the night on the cross, much less another day or two.

Harmonn tried to imagine pulling Kincaid's lifeless body from the cross tomorrow morning and failed entirely. All she could see was Anne's mostly decapitated corpse lying beside the tree in the snow, surrounded by the glittering glass of a shattered windshield.

Her first kill had ruined her life. Did she really expect her second kill to fix it? No, she knew in no uncertain terms that Erin Kincaid's death would haunt her to her dying day, just like Anne's.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I can't do this," she said quietly, then looked up to meet Ares' gaze.

She was surprised to find no anger there, only deep, bitter disappointment. She stood slowly, gripping the hammer tightly, aware that Jake Mellor was moving towards her, pulling a switchblade from his boot. She tensed, preparing to defend herself.

"I'll finish them both, Lord Ares," the big man growled.

The god raised his hand. "No. Let them go."


"Trust me, Mellor. If you try to kill her right now, I'll lose you and half the people in this temple before it's all over. And frankly, I don't want to have to start recruiting again in this region."

"Nobody insults you and walks away from this temple unpunished!" the Arms Master protested, clearly furious at being held back from doing what he perceived as his duty.

"Nobody except for them," the god said evenly. He met Harmonn's eyes and shrugged, lips quirking into a half smile. "Hey, I had to try." He shook his head ruefully. "I almost had you this time, but I can wait. If not this lifetime, then the next. Or maybe I'll try to get her instead. But I'll get one of you...someday." He smiled, then disappeared in a flash of light.

Harmonn didn't understand what he meant by any of it, but she was smart enough to know that it was time to get her butt out of there. And Erin's too.

She knelt beside the cross and pulled her own switchblade out, quickly sawing through the ropes securing Erin's arms and feet.

The Elijian opened pain-clouded eyes and watched her, uncomprehending. "What? what are you d-d-doing?"

"Getting you out of here," Harmonn said, trying to keep her voice calm. She grabbed the top of the nail in her fist. "Hold on, this is going to hurt."

Erin cried out again as Harmonn pulled the nail out, and the warrior watched in fascination as blood came gushing out of the wound as the metal exited. It spilled over the girl's palm and dribbled down the side of the wooden cross. Erin's hand convulsed, then went limp. The Elijian had fainted.

This is soooo not good. Harmonn tossed the bloody nail away distastefully, and it hit the floor with an audible clang, rolling several feet before coming to a stop in front of one of Jake Mellor's booted feet. The big man leaned over and picked it up silently, flanked by the other two Arms Masters. Their faces held the looks of anger she'd expected to see on her god, and she shuddered, knowing that she'd just made three very dangerous enemies.

She turned back to Erin and patted her cheek lightly. "C'mon, Erin, wake up. I need you to help me out, here." She shook the girl's shoulders. She knew she should bandage the Elijian's wounded hand to stop the bleeding, but that would have to wait until they were out of the temple. "Wake up, dammit!"

When Erin didn't stir, Harmonn used her adrenaline enhanced strength to pick the girl up. Gods be damned, she weighs a ton for such a little thing. Cursing to herself, she carried Kincaid's limp body past the hostile stares of her former companions and students to the closest exit. Somehow she got the door open and staggered up the stairs to the street where she pushed open the door to the outside world. Oddly, her first thought was to be thankful it wasn't still raining outside.

She hesitated before stepping out, knowing that once she did, she would never be able to come back. Erin's bleeding hand had left a trail of blood going up the stairs, and her eyes followed it down again, stopping when she saw Arms Master Hershal step through the doorway below.

Harmonn closed her eyes against the cold fury in his expression. It was already too late to go back. She'd made her choice when she refused to crucify Kincaid.

She stepped out onto the gray, wet sidewalk in front of the temple.

"Don't come back, Harmonn, and don't call us to post your bail," Arms Master Hershel said behind her from the doorway. "You've failed your god and your fellow warriors. You're finished with the temple. And you'd better watch your step from now on."

"Fuck you!" Harmonn spat before he closed the door. She closed her eyes again, wondering just what in the name of all gods she was going to do now. Suddenly she felt exhausted. She sank to her knees on the cold cement, carefully lowering Erin with her.

The Elijian moaned, and her eyes flickered but didn't open.

Harmonn pulled out her knife and cut a strip of cloth from Erin's t-shirt, using it to bind the girl's bleeding hand. She needs to get to a hospital. Her eyes came to rest on the Elijian's bare foot and the odd tattoo there. Fascinated, she shifted her position and traced the circle with her finger. For some reason, it looked familiar.

"It's a chakram," a weak voice said, and Harmonn looked down to see Erin's eyes open, watching her.

Ahhhh. Harmonn remembered where she'd seen it before. Ares had a chakram of similar design etched into the back of his throne. Of course, she hadn't known it was a chakram before. "What's with the cross?"

"It was in the picture?" Erin said, struggling to sit up.

"Take it easy," Harmonn said, gently pushing her back down. "You've lost a lot of blood. What picture?"

"Um?on the Xena Blue Scroll? Not much of the scroll survived, but the picture remained. Some scholars think the cross is just an accidental ink blotch."

"But you don't?" Harmonn asked, wondering idly if the Elijian had other weird designs of ancient artifacts tattooed on hidden body parts. Somehow, she hadn't thought of Kincaid as the tattooing type.

"No, it just seemed to fit. I couldn't get it out of my head?"

"So you had it permanently stamped on your foot instead?" Harmonn rolled her eyes.

Kincaid took a shuddering breath and closed her eyes. "I thought you were going to kill me. Or is this just more psychological torture before the real thing?"

Harmonn looked away. She hugged her legs to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. "Naw. I copped out. Couldn't do it." She risked a glance at the Elijian and found her green eyes open, staring. "You're free to go. Call the police. Doesn't matter to me."

Erin awkwardly pushed herself up into a sitting position with her good hand. She swallowed, cradling her wounded hand. "Um? you know? I don't really remember all of what happened down there, but I think I understand enough to know that? uh? one way or another? I owe you my life. Thank you."

Harmonn was tempted to be pissed at the stupidity of this statement but decided it would take too much effort. "Sure, whatever." She stood up. "Have a nice life."

"I won't call the cops," the Elijian said quietly.

Harmonn turned and looked at her. "Afraid I'll hurt you?"

"No? it? it just wouldn't be right to reward mercy with punishment."

"I hammered a hole in your hand."

"You spared my life."

Harmonn shook her head in disgust. "I will never in a million years understand you, Elijian."

"I'm sorry," Erin said earnestly.

Harmonn's eyes slipped back to the tattoo. "Ares has a chakram like that carved into the back of his throne," she said, almost to herself. It seemed significant, somehow, but she couldn't put her finger on why.

Erin frowned, looking at her foot. She wiggled her toes. "I guess that makes sense. He was in love with Xena, after all."

Harmonn hadn't known that, but she carefully hid her surprise. "You think it's supposed to be Xena's chakram?"

The Elijian shrugged. "M. Pappas insisted that the drawing on the scroll was Xena's chakram. Her analyses and arguments were quite convincing."

"And you believe her?"

"Sure. Her scholarly translations of the Xena scrolls are still accepted as the best out there."

"Maybe I'll have to read them sometime."

Kincaid's battered face lit up. "I have copies you can borrow. Or they're available in the university library? It's so cool to read about Xena from a first-hand source! She really was amazing."

Harmonn frowned. Funny, that they shared a similar opinion of the long-dead warrior princess. Apparently, they did have something in common after all. "Do you like pizza?" she asked after a moment. Maybe Kincaid could help her unwind the mystery of Ares' strange comments. The Elijian seemed to know a lot about the war god's past history.

Kincaid seemed to follow this abrupt change in topic without missing a beat. Bruised, beaten, with blood already starting to seep through the makeshift bandage around her hand, the girl looked decidedly happy to be alive, and her natural charisma shined through in the form of unabated enthusiasm. "I love pizza," she said. Her face fell. "But if I have any now, I think I'll be sick. I don't feel very well. I don't suppose you'd call an ambulance for me? I? I'm not sure I could make it to a phone?"

Harmonn sighed. Definitely a pain in the butt. "Well, I suppose if I leave you to bleed to death on the sidewalk, the cops will eventually hunt me down?" She held out her hand. "Come on, I'll take you myself."

Kincaid hesitated, staring uncertainly at Harmonn's outstretched hand.

Harmonn scowled and grabbed Erin's uninjured wrist. "Let's get going before you pass out again." She pulled Kincaid to her feet, wrapping the Elijian's arm over her shoulder so she could support most of her weight. "My car is in the back lot."

Kincaid tucked her wounded hand into the waistband of her jeans. "But I'm bleeding?I don't want to mess it up?"

"I like decorating in blood," Harmonn smirked.

Erin turned her head to look up at her. "Really?"

Harmonn smiled inwardly. "Naw. But the interior does happen to be dark red." She helped Kincaid navigate through the alley and around a set of dumpsters at the side of the parking lot. "Hold on, there's some broken glass here."

Without asking for permission, Harmonn swept the Elijian off her bare feet and carried her across the parking lot. "Almost there," she said, nodding towards her car. Kincaid was resting her tousled blonde head against Harmonn's shoulder, eyes closed, and the warrior noticed that her lips had lost most of their color again.

It was awkward unlocking the door while holding up another person, but eventually she got the Elijian settled on the front seat, and she slid in behind the wheel, turning the key to the ignition.

"Um, can I ask you something?" Kincaid asked softly when Harmonn turned onto the street, heading for the nearest hospital.

"Can I stop you?" Harmonn grumbled.

"Well, sure? I mean, just say so. You don't have to punch me in the face or anything." Kincaid sighed tiredly. "Under normal circumstances I respond fairly well to verbal instructions."

Harmonn rolled her eyes. "What is it?"

"I just wanted to know your name?"

"My name?" Harmonn repeated, glancing down at the Elijian in surprise.

"Most people have one."

Cheeky. Harmonn liked that. She grinned despite herself. "Harmonn. Harmonn Sharpe."


Leslie Ann Miller's Scrolls
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