To Fight for What is Mine by Red Hope

Disclaimer & Notices

Copyright: Many of these characters do not belong to me, and we know which ones do not. I, however, own the plot and other certain characters.
Violence: There is violence in this story.
Subtext: Any subtext becomes main text here.

Summary: The sequel to To Take What is Mine. The Conqueror continues her campaign to the Macedon Kingdom, and she already knows the odds are in her favor. Yet without warning, the Romans invade the Thrace Providence and take aim for the Conqueror's hometown. The Conqueror though bitterly holds back from saving Amphipolis. However Queen Gabrielle and Queen Cyane join together at the Siege of Amphipolis and try to stop the Romans before they overtake Thrace.

Feedback: redhope@redhope.net
Homepage: http://www.redhope.net

Started: June 6, 2008
Series 9: Destiny of Mine – Story #3




To Fight for What is Mine
by Red Hope


Chapter 17

Queen Gabrielle bent forward until her lips met the dry, gritty stone of the coffin. She imagined Lyceus's face, his smile, and even heard his voice as she silently sent her love to him. She straightened up and brushed her hand over the lid.

"I wish she was here too," she murmured to her brother. "I could use her help." She stared down at the coffin in the low torch light. "This war…" Gabrielle faltered and blinked away the sting in her eyes. "It scares me," she hoarsely confessed to the dead brother. "When it was civil war against the Centaurs, I knew we could defeat them. But this is different now…" She shook her head several times. "There are innocent lives at stake and half of those lives cannot fight this war." She placed her other hand on the coffin and leaned her weight into it. "I cannot sleep at night now." She bowed her head.

The torchlit tomb became silent again. Occasionally a snap came from the flames, but it was eerily dead in the old tomb. Then Gabrielle's heavy sigh broke the silence.

"I wish you could speak to her, Ly," the bard confessed. "If anybody could convince Xena, it would be you." She stared, sadly at the head of the coffin. "I miss you, brother." She kissed his coffin one last time as the guilt washed through her. Long ago she carried the guilt that her brother's death was her own fault, along with Xena's darkness. Gabrielle put it aside and wished Lyceus all the peace that Elysium offered him. She snuffed out the torches then quietly left the tomb through the sunlit entrance.

Seven of Nine had her back squarely pressed against a smooth tree's trunk. She'd had her arms crossed tightly, but her head was hung down. She was studying the simple yet meaningful bracelet that Naia had made her many moons ago. Seven kept thinking about the single word etched into the silver plate – Faith. Now indeed was a time of faith, Seven silently realized.

At the sounds of movement, the automaton came out of her processes and acknowledged the queen with a faint nod. After uncrossing her arms, she pushed off the tree and approached the queen.

Gabrielle stood a few paces away from the tomb's entrance. She leaned her head against her staff. "Thanks for coming and waiting." She was grateful to have Seven's loyal friendship.

"I do not require a thanks," Seven argued.

Gabrielle chuckled and stretched out her freehand. She gingerly grasped the automaton's forearm.

Seven peered down at the small hand wrapped around her muscle. She detected the instant charge generated between her and the queen. She'd noticed that charge was developing as the days went by.

Gabrielle noted the automaton's curious stare at her hand. She lifted her head and kept her hand on her friend's arm. "What is it?" Slowly she found crisp blue eyes on her.

"Do you not feel it?" Seven whispered.

The bard had a bewildered look then started shaking her head. "I don't… feel anything, Seven." She squeezed the automaton's arm and corrected, "Other than the feel of your skin." She finally released the Amazon's arm.

Seven stared back at her arm as if she'd been burned there. "It is one-sided then," she concluded aloud. She met the queen's curious features. "It is an excited sensation that you initiate throughout my body when you touch me."

Gabrielle actually felt uneasy because it sounded like the description she'd use whenever she and Xena touched each other. She cleared her throat in a nervous fashion and tempted, "Excited… as in…" She wasn't sure how to carefully put it.

Seven gradually arched her metal eyebrow and stated, "I am not sexually excited by your touch, Gabrielle." She noted the queen's suddenly flushed cheeks. "Are you alright?" She shifted closer out of concern.

Gabrielle waved the automaton off and hastily insisted, "I'm fine." She exhaled deeply and went back to the earlier topic. "So maybe it's this connection thing then."

"I concur." Seven placed her hands behind her back in a formal manner. "Perhaps you were correct a moon ago when you stated that I am a hippothoe."

"I think so," Gabrielle murmured. She started walking down the road that'd take them back to the city. "Perhaps after the war we can find a way to determine it."

"Indeed," the automaton softly agreed. She wanted to discuss it further until her sensitive ears picked out running footsteps. There were two sets coming for them. She instantly grabbed her sword's handle and unsheathed her weapon.

The queen raised her staff at the ready, but she recognized the running figures as Solari and Andra after a moment. She lowered her staff and came to a slow halt once her Amazons joined her.

Seven had resheathed her sword after determining there wasn't any threat. However, the expression on the blacksmith's face wasn't totally comforting either.

"Gabrielle," Solari started but faltered from needing a deep breath.

"It's Commander Kaylee," Andra attempted explaining to her blood sister.

Seven of Nine deciphered what the blacksmith was telling them. "The stratègos is here," she quietly concluded but with slight admiration at the stratègos's quick time here.

Andra bobbed her head while she sucked in some air.

"She's only a quarter of a candlemark away," Solari informed. "She sent a rider ahead to let us know."

Gabrielle was still in shock. "It is much too soon."

Andra shook her head then straightened up and explained, "She only came with a handful of Amazons."

"She came ahead of the army," Queen Gabrielle realized now. She continued the walk to Amphipolis. "We should hurry back." There was relief washing over her at knowing that Kaylee was here, especially early too. She imagined that Kaylee had ridden ahead of the army so that she could help Amphipolis prepare for the war. It'd been five days since Gabrielle and her Amazons had arrived in Amphipolis. Kaylee's early arrival was unexpected but also very much needed by Gabrielle.

The four Amazons hurried down the road and went directly to the guarded gates of Amphipolis. Andra and Solari offered to stay with the queen, but they were told to continue their duties for the war. However, Seven remained with the queen and waited for the stratègos's arrival. They remained just beyond the gates, but Queen Gabrielle paced in worry. She only paused when Seven seemed to detect a few riders' approach from the west.

Gabrielle shifted to the automaton's side and a soft smile caressed her lips upon seeing Kaylee on horseback. "Stratègos," she warmly greeted.

Commander Kaylee pulled the horse's reins and signaled her four escorts to stop behind her. She mirrored the queen's smile. "Good afternoon, my queen." She relaxed her hands on the saddlehorn. She glanced at the four Amazons and ordered, "Dismount, Amazons." She did the same and pulled the reins over her horse's head.

Queen Gabrielle neared the stratègos and sensed the automaton at her side. "It is good to see you, my friend."

Kaylee softened at the greeting and replied, "You as well, but I wish it was under better circumstances."

"So do I," the bard sadly agreed.

Commander Kaylee sighed then trailed her eyes over to the beautiful automaton. "Hello, Seven of Nine."

Seven slightly bowed forward out of respect. "Welcome to Amphipolis, stratègos." She straightened up to her full height and formally placed her hands behind her back. "You made excellent time."

The stratègos detected a hint of pride in the automaton's voice, and it made her slightly grin. "I do not like to tarry, especially when the queen requests my presence." She settled her grin on Gabrielle.

"You're much needed presence," Gabrielle insisted. She nodded once and sincerely added, "Thank you for coming so quickly."

Kaylee returned the nod then explained, "The army will be here in seven to eight days. They were preparing to leave the day after we left."

"Who did you leave in charge?"

The stratègos admired the queen's concern and answered, "I left Eponin in charge." It'd been the wisest choice at the time because there wasn't any polemarchos since Galatea's death during the Battle of the Fates. There'd had yet to be a selection for a new polemarchos. "Kalonice is also assisting her."

Gabrielle was pleased and gave a nod. "Let's go into the city." She glanced at the four Amazons that'd escorted the stratègos, and she instantly recognized them. She warmly greeted Page, Helle, Leda, and Acacia.

"May I take your horse, stratègos?" Seven offered to Commander Kaylee.

The stratègos smiled at the automaton's kindness but shook her head. "I'm fine… thank you." She clicked her tongue once at the mare then took pace between the queen and automaton. "How goes the preparations, my queen?"

"We are very busy," Gabrielle confessed. Indeed she and the eirenarchos had been rather engaged with preparing the city for the siege. Also Xander was dropping in his drachma occasionally. She explained to Commander Kaylee that they'd carefully surveyed the local terrain in and around Amphipolis. Ephiny had worked with Andra, Solari, and Gryta after they'd surveyed the area, and Ephiny drew a detailed map.

The stratègos carefully listened to the queen's list of what'd been accomplished since the queen's arrival in Amphipolis. Kaylee was rather pleased by the cooperation that Commander Nikostratos, Admiral Xander, and the council were showing towards preparing the city. She'd heard enough rumors about the Delian League to be concerned about their involvement, but now it sounded promising after all.

"I also received word yesterday that supplies are coming from Pella," Queen Gabrielle revealed to the stratègos.

"The Conqueror?" The stratègos was clearly surprised by the ruler's support. She'd thought that the Conqueror wouldn't even provide fuel for the fire. But indeed she'd been wrong once the queen nodded at her.

"It should arrive in five to seven days," Gabrielle estimated.

"That's excellent," Kaylee softly praised. Yet, she was still disappointed by the Conqueror's lack of presence. She did not understand the Conqueror's position on the pending war. Kaylee hoped to ask Gabrielle more about it later.

"We also need to figure out where we're going to house everybody." The queen had a worried look on her face. "The barracks are very small here." She let out a low breath then mentioned, "I have considered asking my brother if we can use his fields."

The stratègos brushed back her auburn hair and considered it.

"He has already tilled them," Seven of Nine reminded the queen.

"I know," Gabrielle murmured.

"But what good are the fields if Amphipolis burns down," the stratègos reasoned.

Gabrielle didn't want to add that she hoped by having some of her Amazons near her brother's so that he and his family would be protected. But at the same time, she feared it'd attract attention too, but she doubted it would in the long run.

"There are a few other small farms within the city walls." Seven of Nine mentally counted them and summarized there'd be enough space for temporary housing for both Nations. "They should be sufficient enough to accommodate the two Nations."

"Yes." Gabrielle gave a firm nod then focused on Kaylee. "Perhaps tomorrow we should talk to the landowners."

"I'm sure we can appeal to their good side." The stratègos shifted her focus to the stable in front of her.

"This is Cyrene's stable," Gabrielle explained. "You'll be able to stay here." But she considered the four escorting Amazons and decided there was enough room in the barracks for them. She took the riders into the stable and pointed out empty stalls. She quietly left them to their business and rejoined Seven outside the stable.

"The stratègos has arrived ahead of schedule," Seven softly mentioned to the queen.

"Yes." Gabrielle leaned against her staff. "I'm glad she came so soon." Then another thought came to her after she considered how well Seven received the stratègos at the gates. She tried holding back her grin, but she was pleasantly taken by her own realization. "You and the stratègos will have much to catch up on."

Seven of Nine was standing beside the queen but facing towards the taverna. She'd put her hands behind her back in her normal stance, but she now twisted to her right and curiously gazed upon her queen and friend. "Commander Kaylee will be extremely busy. I do not believe she will have time for dialogue with me."

Gabrielle opened her mouth to refute the automaton's thoughts, but she was cut off by a deeper voice behind her. She looked over her shoulder as the stratègos spoke to Seven.

"I will surely have time for you, Seven." Commander Kaylee had her saddlebags on her right shoulder and neared the two. "I will make time." She looked at the queen briefly then back at the automaton. "Indeed we have much to catch up on."

Seven slightly canted her head, but she inclined her head in acknowledgment. She caught Queen Gabrielle's pleased expression.

The queen decided to shift topics and mentioned, "Cyrene has a room upstairs for you." She was glad there was one more room upstairs so that she and Kaylee were not far from each other.

"Great." Kaylee sensed her escorts coming out of the stable. She turned to them.

Queen Gabrielle did the same and told them that they'd be staying in the barracks temporarily. She then asked Seven to take them to the barracks. Later, Gabrielle would let the eirenarchos know that four of her Amazons were staying in guest quarters in the barracks. She doubted he'd be bothered by it.

After the Amazons left, Gabrielle guided the stratègos into the taverna. She scanned about for Cyrene once they were in the quiet taverna, but she didn't find anybody. She suspected that Elen and Cyrene were busy preparing for tonight's crowd. So Gabrielle decided to go directly to Kaylee's guestroom.

The stratègos was happy to see a bed despite the room's small space. She felt how comfortable its atmosphere was and it was so warm compared to the onset of fall. She went to the only window and worked the matt off it.

"How has Seven been?" Kaylee inquired.

Gabrielle sat on the corner of the bed. "For the most part she seems to be doing well."

The stratègos set the rolled up matt on the floor under the sill. She faced the queen and folded her muscular arms. "She seems…" She couldn't find the right word.

"Content," Gabrielle supplied.

Kaylee dipped her head then leaned against the windowsill.

"I think she's been looking forward to your arrival," the bard concluded.

Kaylee furrowed her eyebrows. "Did she say something?"

"It's not so much what she said." Gabrielle had a faint grin again. "It's obvious by her manners with you." She chuckled at the stratègos's sigh. "I think she's fond of you, Kaylee."

Kaylee slowly arched an eyebrow and queried, "How should I infer that, my queen?"

"However you would like," Gabrielle teased. She then chuckled at the stratègos's skeptic look. She stretched out her legs and became more serious. "You should rest this afternoon then tonight we can discuss the ongoings."

"I'd rather get started now," Kaylee fought.

"I know." Gabrielle now stood up and tapped her staff's end once against the floor. "But I think you need to rest this afternoon after your journey here." She shifted her hand down the staff. "You begin with a clear mind tomorrow."

The stratègos narrowed her eyes and tempted, "Is that an order?"

Gabrielle gave a grin and walked over to the stratègos. "It can be." She paused a few paces from the stratègos. "Does it need to be?"

Kaylee chuckled once then shook her head. "I will unpack and get cleaned up."

"Good." The queen wandered over to the door but faced the stratègos. "Dinner is served at sunset." Then her lips curled up. "Cyrene serves the best gyros in Thrace."

Kaylee shook her head once and argued, "I thought this was a war… not a vacation."

Gabrielle sobered and sadly reminded, "We're enjoying it while we can." She now opened the door and started out. "See you in a few candlemarks." She closed the door behind her.

Commander Kaylee spent the time unpacking and getting acquainted with her room that she'd be in for the next moons. On the journey to Amphipolis, she considered all the reasons why the Nation was fighting this war. Often she concluded that Queen Gabrielle was utilizing the Nation's army to protect her own family, who had no relations to the Amazons. But Kaylee knew not to voice her opinion, especially because Queen Cyane would soon join them. And that was another mystery as to why Queen Cyane was fighting for Amphipolis too. Kaylee suspected that the Conqueror had ordered Cyane to Amphipolis and protect Queen Gabrielle.

The stratègos shook away her concerns and instead focused on the task at hand. If Amphipolis were to win the war then it would take all of Kaylee's skills and knowledge to do it. She was highly trained by Penthesilea and nothing was faulty in Kaylee's intelligence as a warrior and army commander. Foremost in her mind were all the lives that depended on her abilities and strength.

At sunset, Kaylee retrieved her sheathed sword from the foot of the bed and rehooked it on her back. She decided to leave her mask hanging on the pegboard by the door. She quietly left but immediately made out the clamor from the taverna. Once she entered the hallway, the smells drifted under her nose and made her stomach happily growl in excitement. Kaylee placed her right hand over her bare stomach and entered the taverna.

Queen Gabrielle was coming out of the kitchen with two plates in her hands and a plate on her left arm. She smiled at the stratègos and nodded at the large round table of Amazons. "Ephiny saved you a spot at the table."

Kaylee nodded at the queen and followed her to the table. She wanted to help the queen until she saw how Gabrielle handled the plates so easily.

"It's nice to be served by our queen," Solari jested after the first appetizer plate was lowered in the center.

"Careful, Solari," Ephiny warned her friend. "You may end up with the next plate in your lap."

Solari quickly looked from Ephiny to the queen, who had an evil smirk on her face.

"Fruit, Solari?" Gabrielle teased.

Solari cleared her throat and politely replied, "Thank you, my queen." She cautiously eyed the large plate of fruit being set down on the table. Her hands were ready to grab it if it suddenly came at her.

"Stratègos," Ephiny warmly greeted. She couldn't help standing up in respect. "There's a seat beside Seven for you."

"Thank you." Commander Kaylee made her way around a few seats and was grateful when Seven moved the chair out for her. She found that Andra was to her left.

"Good evening, stratègos," Seven of Nine formally stated.

The stratègos gave a smile and gently replied, "Good evening, Seven." She then traded an exchange with Andra. She briefly considered whether the seating arrangements were a setup, perhaps by the queen. She brushed it away when the queen approached her.

"Wine, cider, or port?" Gabrielle placed her hands on her hips and waited for the stratègos's answer.

Kaylee met the queen's gaze and hesitated when she thought she saw a brief smug look on the queen's face. "Wine… wine is fine." She nodded once and watched the queen leave. She looked down at the table and stared at it with a distant expression. Indeed there was something going on that she hadn't learned yet.

"Are you alright, stratègos?" the automaton softly inquired.

Kaylee snapped out of her stare and focused on Seven. "Yes." She deflected it further with a smile. "It's just been a long ride here."

"The army is not far behind?" Solari prompted after hearing the stratègos.

"About seven to eight days," Kaylee answered. But her words began a tidal wave of questions that fed into a conversation at the table about the war. It gave Kaylee an opportunity to learn what had been done, what needed to be done, and what may be impossible to do. She planned on spending all day tomorrow with the queen. She could tell the preparations were well handled so far, but now the city needed a strategy to win and plenty of options on how to make the strategy work well.

After dinner, Queen Gabrielle was left with only a few Amazons at the cleared table. She asked Ephiny to accompany to her room, but first she instructed Kaylee to seek her out in a candlemark. After the stratègos's agreement, she and Ephiny left the nearly empty table.

Andra was polishing off her cup of wine and seemed somewhat relaxed despite the dinner conversation tonight. She gulped down the remains of her wine then focused on her apprentice. "I think I'm going to our room." She caught Seven's faint nod. "Gabrielle needs me to do inventory on the armaments tomorrow."

"Will you need assistance?" the automaton prompted.

The blacksmith seriously considered it. "I think so." Her mind flashed with Xander's face as she wondered how hard it would be to convince him to allow her entry into his weaponry cache. She sighed and gave a nod. "That'll be good actually," she amended.

"What time?"

Andra shrugged. "After breakfast." She saw Seven's subtle agreement so she stood up after pushing her cup away.

"Let me know if you have trouble with Admiral Xander," the stratègos interrupted. She folded her arms and settled her steely gaze on the blacksmith.

Andra dipped her head in understanding. "Thank you, stratègos." She pushed her chair in. "Goodnight," she bid to them. She received a goodnight back and went on her way.

"The nauarchos may prove to be a problem," Seven softly revealed to the stratègos.

Kaylee bit her bottom lip for a beat then turned to the automaton. "Yes… Gabrielle already forewarned me about him." She lowered her arms into her lap. "How does the queen fair?" She suspected Seven was staying close to the queen.

"She is wrought with fears and stress," Seven quietly replied.

Kaylee bowed her head. "It is understandable."

"She is relieved that you have arrived."

Kaylee peered up at the automaton. "She does not have much experience in warfare."

"She prefers peace," Seven reasoned.

The stratègos let out a low sigh. "Sometimes you cannot have peace without fighting a war first." She then shifted gears and asked, "How have you been, Seven?"

"I've been operating sufficiently."

Kaylee slotted her eyes at the Amazon and waited to see if Seven caught her drift.

Seven shifted in her chair but remained ramrod straight. "I am…" She faltered, for the first time. She wasn't sure how to describe how she felt lately.

The stratègos took that as a signal so she suddenly straightened up from the chairback. "Come with me." She started getting up. "I need a walk after all this food."

"Of course, stratègos." Seven of Nine got up and accompanied Commander Kaylee out of the taverna.

Kaylee hooked her hands behind her back once she was out on the street. "Has the trip been hard for you?" She studied the automaton's profile. "I haven't forgotten your history with the Conqueror."

"Nor have I," the automaton quickly replied.

Kaylee slightly tensed but calmed at seeing Seven's unchanged expression. "Talk to me, Seven." She hoped encouraging the conversation would be good for their friendship. She knew that Seven and the queen had formed a bond too, but Kaylee didn't forget that the Conqueror was first in the queen's book. As a result, Kaylee suspected that Seven was particular about what she said to the queen about the Conqueror. Kaylee could understand too.

"It has been… somewhat difficult," Seven softly confessed to the stratègos.

Kaylee thought it over for a few beats then questioned, "Have you found common ground with the Conqueror at all?"

Seven parted her lips to instantly deny any understanding between her and the Conqueror. But yet those easy words failed her once the queen's face flashed in her mind. She briefly found the stratègos's grey stare on her so Seven finally replied, "Perhaps we have found some common ground."

"The queen," Kaylee whispered with certainty. Her features had grown taut and slightly dark despite the yellow light coming from the street's torchlight. "I know your favor for the queen."

The automaton dipped her head and appreciated that the stratègos could understand her. "I admire Gabrielle's strengths."

"She has many," Kaylee murmured.

"I concur," Seven echoed back. She tilted her head and supplied, "The Conqueror and me find it necessary to put Gabrielle's wellbeing ahead of others."

The stratègos inhaled sharply, but she calmed her initial gut reaction to the automaton's nearly dangerous words. Her mind spun out of control with all the outcomes to what would happen if the Conqueror and Seven were protecting the queen from threats. She let out a low breath and carefully asked, "Did you discuss this with the Conqueror?"

Seven noticed the stratègos's slightly concerned features, but it didn't deter Seven. She instead placed her hands behind her back and continued strolling alongside the stratègos. "Yes." She canted her head and added, "I agreed to protect the queen at all costs."

Kaylee remained silent and mulled it over with a careful eye. She wasn't sure how she truly felt about the automaton's decision in the matter. Indeed Seven did not have an army within her hands, but Seven's demi-god abilities were not to be ignored, by anybody.

Seven detected the stratègos's concern and attempted easing the situation. "It is for the best, stratègos." She caught the stratègos's coming to a sudden stop in the nearly empty street. Seven paused and turned on her heels. She remained ridged and stiff but keenly interested in the stratègos. She calmly informed, "It is imperative that the queen is not harmed in any matter." She locked her icy blue eyes with Kaylee. "If she is killed then not only will our Nation greatly suffer, but Greece may full under a tyrant's iron fist." She watched the arguing emotions on the stratègos's face. "I do not wish to have to assassinate the Conqueror."

Kaylee was hit by a cold rush through her veins at the automaton's statement. Her breath hitched, but she was forced to tilt her head back when the towering automaton came closer to her. "It is not your duty," she barely managed in a strangled tone. Despite she was Seven's superior, she suddenly did not feel in charge of this outrageous situation that was agreed upon without her blessing.

"It is my duty," Seven firmly declared but then she softly added, "Stratègos."

Kaylee broke her eye contact and stared at the building off to her right. She shook her head once then side stepped the automaton after muttering, "Her life is not more important than yours."

Seven of Nine easily heard the bitter words from the passing stratègos. For the first time in many seasons, she actually felt shock strike her then instantly her heart accelerated from the sudden heat in her body. She hastily acted and took long strides until she was beside Commander Kaylee again.

The stratègos had balled up hands at her side and hotly whispered, "We are here to protect her hometown." She grounded her teeth and added, "We are here to protect her family."

Seven did not expect the stratègos to be upset about the pending war much less expressing it to her. At first she wasn't sure how to reply until Gabrielle's words came back to her. She placed her hand on the stratègos's taut shoulder.

Kaylee's fast walk suddenly went slow until she came under a lit torch lamp. She faced the younger woman, and her anger deflated upon seeing the automaton's calm face. She again shook her head and softly confessed, "This is not our fight, and our sisters will die for it."

Seven glanced to her right when a passerby went around them. But she looked back at the stratègos and informed, "This is for the Greater Good."

Kaylee clenched her jaw and couldn't find an argument to helping others. She still shook her head and placed her hands on her hips. "How many of our sisters will the Greater Good take from us?"

"Perhaps no more than what she will give back," Seven replied.

The stratègos huffed at the unusual, illogical reply from the automaton.

Seven tilted her head because she knew that Commander Kaylee was still out of sorts about everything. She hadn't expected to be on the opposite side of their conversation tonight. Most often it was the stratègos that advised and helped her. But perhaps Seven had developed enough in the past moons that she was becoming the stratègos's equal in their relationship.

"It is not about the value of my life or the queen's," Seven informed the stratègos. "It is about our Nation and even the known-world, stratègos." She lifted her head and carefully explained, "Our Nation finally has a strong queen."

The stratègos let out a breath because she couldn't argue that the Nation needed Gabrielle's strength, skills, and leadership. She too highly respected the young queen for her abilities and sensed what good it would bring to the weakened Nation.

"If the Conqueror loses Gabrielle," Seven informed, "she will bring Tartarus to the living."

Kaylee seriously studied Seven and knew that Seven was right about the Conqueror. She could tell that Gabrielle was the Conqueror's light in all the darkness. She also knew stories about the Conqueror's past, especially in the Thrace Amazon Nation. There would be no going back from Gabrielle's death, for anybody.

"That is hardly comforting, Seven," the stratègos muttered. She sighed and continued their walk down the street. "But you're right."

Seven continued at the stratègos's side. "It is reality." She scanned the quiet street ahead of them. "I am the most qualified to protect the queen."

"Yes… yes, I am afraid so," Kaylee whispered. She released another sigh. She wanted to ask who would protect Seven from danger? But she held it back and instead decided that she would keep a careful eye on Seven. Long ago, Kaylee had decided that Seven had much to offer the Nation.

"You are extremely concerned," Seven noted aloud.

The stratègos glanced up at the automaton but made no further comment.

Seven was warmed by the stratègos's care and politely offered, "Thank you, stratègos."

Commander Kaylee continued with her silence despite the automaton's keen observation. She couldn't ignore the appreciation in Seven's voice. She started caving in and whispered, "That's what friends do." She turned to her left and started crossing the street until she noticed Seven was not at her side. She looked back at Seven only a pace behind her.

"Friends," Seven whispered. She focused down on the stratègos's features.

Kaylee watched as the icy edge in Seven's eyes slowly warmed into a rich glow. She hadn't seen that before, and she felt a flutter rise in her stomach. She went dry mouth but barely managed, "Yes… we are friends." She didn't wait for a reply and continued to the other side.

A beat passed but Seven moved forward, crossed over, and joined Kaylee on the other side so that they could go back, together. She had nothing else to say for awhile until finally the stratègos asked more about what'd been done since the queen came to Amphipolis.

Once back at Cyrene's inn, Seven escorted the stratègos upstairs to where Cyrene, Gabrielle, and the stratègos had rooms. It was rather quiet other than some faint movements from Cyrene's room. But Seven sensed that Queen Gabrielle was in her room despite it was quiet. She briefly wondered if perhaps the queen was scribing, but she highly doubted it considering the pending war.

"Thank you for the walk," Kaylee politely offered to the Amazon. She revealed a soft smile after she turned to the taller, younger woman.

"You are welcome, stratègos." Seven dipped her head and prepared to go until a small hand on her wrist made her pause. She focused back on the stratègos, who had soft features that made age disappear from the stratègos's face.

"You may call me Kaylee… when we're alone," the stratègos softly ordered in a low timber.

Seven hadn't expected the request. Quickly the earlier warmth returned in her stomach and spread through her body. It seemed as if her metal was being heated by the sun on a beautiful day.

Kaylee could tell that the automaton was caught off guard. She barely held back her smirk, but her heavy voice was laced with faint amusement. "Goodnight, Seven." Her hand slipped from Seven's wrist and went to the door handle. She silently slipped away and into her candlelit room.

Seven remained still for another beat before she gathered herself and started down the hallway to the stairwell. Her intelligent mind restarted and processed what'd happened just moments ago.

The stratègos remained on the other side of the door and released a heavy breath once she heard Seven's echoing boots fade away. She bowed her head and shook it a few times. What was she thinking in breaking the barrier between superior and subordinate? Ever since becoming a ranking officer, Kaylee upheld a strict rule that she would not open any doors with Amazons under her rank. But somehow Seven of Nine wasn't only coming through the door, but Kaylee had opened it for Seven.

Kaylee put away her concerns and pushed off the door. She went about lighting more candles and then went to the washroom. She wanted to clean up but suspected that the queen would be by soon. There was much to do to prepare Amphipolis for the war. And much to Kaylee's expectations, the queen soon entered her quarters, and they dedicated several candlemarks on going over what had been done and still needed to be done for preparations. Later Kaylee would discuss with Gabrielle the various options Amphipolis had to winning the war. But first, Kaylee had to assess what advantages Amphipolis held that would become valuable during the siege.

After the meeting, Kaylee was truly exhausted, and she mindlessly prepared for bed. Gabrielle's heavy stress had been added to Kaylee's shoulders. There were thousands of innocent lives that depended on the Amazons and the ultimate fate of Thrace rested on the outcome of the war. It was a Fate that no human could predict for Amphipolis or Thrace.

The following morning the sun crept over the horizon without any care about how the new day brought a Roman legion closer to their target. Nestled quietly in a wide valley in Thrace an entire legion of over four thousand soldiers prepared to break camp. The legionaries milled about the temporary camp and worked in rhythm to pack the camp in normal fashion. Near the center of camp, stood a more regal tent that was filled by the highest officers of Legio IV.

All fifteen officers crowded a gigantic table in the center of the room and continued a long candlemark debate about the map on the table. The commanding officer of the legion, legatus legionis, was red in the cheeks from his hot demands of his subordinates. But he often deferred to his lower ranking officers, especially to the high ranking centurion, because they were more experience in warfare than he. But it did not change the specific orders the legatus legionis received from his superior back in Rome. He would not fail Marcus Junius Brutus, who was Julius Caesar's closest confidant. If the legatus legionis could capture Amphipolis, especially in haste, then he would surely gain much fame in the Senate and elevate his status higher.

The legatus legionis called an end to the meeting but requested the high ranking centurion to remain in the tent. He waited until all the officers filed out of the tent one by one. Once everything was quiet, the legatus legionis edged down the table towards the famous centurion. The legatus legionis curled his fist on the corner of the table as the centurion's head came up and earthy brown eyes locked on the legatus legionis.

"The legion is relying on your strength," the legatus legionis softly spoke. "I am relying on your knowledge."

The centurion reached up and removed the hefty bronze helmet, which caused long, honey brown strands to fall over bronze shoulders. "We will succeed, legate."

The legatus legionis admired the centurion's beautiful features now that the helmet was gone. He, like other soldiers, couldn't help being attracted to the highest ranking centurion, but the legatus legionis was not foolish and respected the centurion's godly prowess as a warrior.

After another step closer, the legatus legionis continued quietly talking. "Amphipolis must fall and quickly." He glanced at the small city on the large map of Thrace then his fist slipped off the table once he looked back at the centurion. "Two Amazon Nations will be protecting her. It is key that we capture her then Caesar can use her against the Conqueror."

"The Amazons are a strong race," the centurion informed. "They will be formable."

The legatus legionis leaned towards the centurion and hotly emphasized, "We need her, Cameron." But he stiffened slightly when a bright blue ring glowed around the centurion's brown eyes. Instantly he was reminded of the centurion's link to the gods.

The centurion slowly narrowed her eyes in slight warning to the legatus legionis. "If I can penetrate their city then we will have her."

The legatus legionis shook his head a few times and reminded, "They say there is another there… perhaps stronger than you."

The centurion, Cameron, had also heard the rumors, but it didn't matter to her. She would be faster, stronger, and far more intelligent than the other one.

"She was forged by Hephaestus and blessed by Ares," the legatus legionis revealed. "I do not doubt her existence after the Battle of the Fates."

"Even if they discover me," Cameron argued, "it will be too late." She tucked her helmet under her right arm, and the horsehair tickled some of her exposed skin. "We have the upper hand and only need to play it correctly."

"Can you do that?" the legatus legionis asked.

"Yes." Cameron trailed her now brown eyes over to the marker for Amphipolis. "We will divide… and conqueror." She focused back on her superior, who had a dark smile.

The legatus legionis chuckled at the centurion's wise words that were passed onto them by Julius Caesar. He nodded once and ordered, "Then get started, Cameron Philip." He fisted his right hand.

The centurion raised her right fist to her heart, slightly bowed, and declared, "Hail Rome."

"Hail Rome," the legatus legionis echoed back. He straightened up and watched the centurion march out of the tent. He could tell that Cameron Philip's mission was now her entire focus, and it pleased him greatly. Without a doubt, he believed there would be nothing that would stop the driven centurion and then the legatus legionis would swiftly win the war. Ultimately he poised to become Julius Caesar's greatest commander in Rome.

A few candlemarks after the officer meeting, the highest ranking centurion exited her tent and was greeted by her loyal mare. In her arms, Cameron Philip had her filled saddlebags and began hooking it up to her horse's saddle.

"Is there anything else you require, mistress?"

Cameron continued lashing down the saddlebags, but she looked at her boy slave that'd been at her side for many seasons now. "No." From the corner of her eyes, she saw the boy shifting closer to her tent. "See that my things remain unharmed, especially my gladius and armor."

"Of course, mistress" The boy took a step back, towards the tent, when his master came to the large horse's side.

Cameron shifted the reins near the saddlehorns. She glanced once at the boy but said nothing and instead hauled herself up into the saddle.

The slave took a step closer after being awed by his mistress's strength to easily lift into the saddle. He watched the horse trot off, and he softly called, "Be safe." He hadn't expected his mistress to hear him, but he was surprised when his mistress twisted in the saddle and looked back at him.

Cameron Philip briefly held the boy's gaze, but she didn't reply to his well wishes. She'd already instilled in her subordinate officers that they care for her slave or else she would behead them and those that harmed her slave. Cameron had never grown attached to any slave that'd drifted through her long life, but she had unknowingly developed a soft spot for Darius. He treated her well so she secretly looked after his wellbeing.

Cameron put away her thoughts about the boy and instead spurred her black mare into a full gallop now that she was out of the camp. She followed her mental map to the nearest village south from here. She would stay there for the night then continue the next morning on the road to Amphipolis. It would require much research to gain access to Amphipolis then the plans would have to be carefully laid out next.

The ride to Hydrama took nearly all of the daylight and exhausted the black mare by the time the winding road took them down to the village. The growing village sat at the end of a mountain's fingertips, which blessed the village with an excellent water source. At half a candlemark before sunset, the villagers were finishing their work on their fertile farms.

Cameron dismounted outside of town then walked the rest of the way. She hoped it would cool down her mare. She planned to stable her horse so that her horse was well rested by tomorrow morning. There was still much traveling to do until they reached Amphipolis.

On her walk into town, the centurion detected all the villagers' curious glances and stares directed at her. She expected as much from them. After a faint tilt of her head, she was able to listen to their whispers and comments about her. It was mostly talk about Cameron's leather attire, weapon, and olive black horse. They all wondered if she was from the Thrace Amazon Nation. Eventually, Cameron started ignoring the low conversations once she spotted an inn with a small stable. She made a beeline for it.

The stable handler jumped from his stool when the horse's clopping rung in his ears. He nearly tumbled though when a tall female warrior approached him. He cleared his throat and managed, "Welcome."

"Hello," Cameron curtly replied. "Is there room?" Her rich brown eyes immediately scanned the stable. After a sniff, she deduced it was clean enough for her treasured mare.

"Yes, yes," the nervous handler replied. "How many nights?" He found stern features focused back on him.

"One." The centurion took a step around the handler.

"I can take care of her." The stable handler moved towards the horse and reached for the reins, but he jerked back when the warrior sharply grabbed his wrist.

"Do not," Cameron darkly warned, "ever touch my horse." She tossed his hand away then softly clicked her tongue once at her mare. She listened to the stable handler's heavy breathes from the small scare.

"Th-th-the… the fourth stall on the right is free." The handler watched the horse and owner go into the stall. He then decided there wasn't much he could do so he took a seat again, but remained very alert.

Cameron untacked her mare and spent some time brushing her down. She wanted to reward her horse after the hard day. She then put out some feed, checked the water bucket, and picked up the saddlebags. She started out of the stall but fished out a drachma and tossed it to the handler without so much as a glance.

The centurion hefted her saddlebags onto her right shoulder then cut across the quiet street to the small inn. She assumed there would be room since the handler didn't forewarn her. She hurried up the few steps and entered the inn.

The innkeeper was coming out of his small office in the lobby just when a new guest entered his establishment. He stopped short behind the counter.

"Welcome, ma'am," he properly offered to the warrior. "Can I help you?"

Cameron approached the short counter and replied, "A room for one night."

The innkeeper eyed the centurion's large kopis at her left side. He peered back up at the tall woman. "Three drachmas, please."

The centurion reached up into her saddlebag's small side pocket and retrieved the money. She handed it over then followed his directions down the hall, the first right, and the third door on the left. She found the room small, plain, and quite clean. It was more than enough for tonight. She didn't plan to sleep much tonight or even eat, but it would be plenty of time to work out her plans for once she arrived in Amphipolis.

After checking over her belongings and cleaning up, Cameron grabbed her cloak since it would be cooling off now that the sun was setting. She tossed the black cloak over her shoulders on her way out of the door. The cloak flowed behind the tall centurion while the small strings were neatly tied across her collarbones. Cameron passed through the small lobby without a word to the innkeeper and entered into the early evening.

She didn't bother looking for a taverna like a few locals and other visitors were doing tonight. She was not hungry and would eat tomorrow night. She instead decided on visiting the agora and seeing if a few vendors were still selling anything. Once she arrived there, she was pleased to find a small weapons shop still open that she often patronized in the past.

The shop was quiet and lit only by a few torches. But all the weapons were still shiny and the owner plenty friendly. The distinct scent of oil lingered through the shop. There were mostly swords in the shopkeeper's inventory plus a few maces hanging nearby. However, the daggers on the counter were what caught Cameron's eye.

"Is this all of your daggers?" the centurion questioned.

The shopkeeper came down the counter and studied his wide variety. "I have some in the back." He peered up at the customer's hard yet familiar features. He knew his customer always had something specific in mind "Is there something you're looking for?" He quickly had brown eyes on him that were sharper than all his swords.

"A breast dagger," Cameron clipped.

The shopkeeper nodded and started to the entrance to the rear of his store. "Give me a beat."

Cameron straightened up from her hunched position over the daggers. She rested her right hand on her kopis's beautifully fashioned hilt. She wandered over to the various bows that were hanging on the opposite wall, but she returned to the counter when the shopkeeper came out again.

The shopkeeper unrolled a leather mat onto an empty space on the counter. "I have a few here." He carefully adjusted the seven breast daggers on the leather mat and waited for the customer's opinion or questions.

The centurion carefully inspected each breast dagger by picking it up and visually checking over it. She hefted the weight of each as she went down the line. She finally settled on the fourth one and met the shopkeeper's gaze. "How much?"

"Twenty drachmas," he replied.

Cameron experimented with the dagger in her hands then set the dagger back down in the line. "Too much… like always." She started away until the shopkeeper's voice made her pause.

"Fifteen drachmas," he amended.

Cameron turned on her heels and looked from the dagger to the shopkeeper. "Thirteen and throw in a sharpening stone."

The shopkeeper swayed on his feet and debated the price.

The centurion didn't wait though and instead continued on her way to the open door.

"Alright." The shopkeeper was relieved when the centurion didn't go out the door. "Thirteen plus the stone." He shook his head a few times then softly stated, "I can never win with you, Philip."

Cameron didn't comment back as she returned to the counter and went for her pouch hidden within her cloak. She watched the shopkeeper roll up the mat minus the fourth dagger. She cupped the coins but prompted, "The stone?"

The shopkeeper let out a breath at his hardnosed customer but retrieved the sharpening stone. He exchanged the two items for the money and thanked her.

Cameron merely nodded and started tucking away her new belongings on her way out the door. She made sure to carefully stow the dagger until she could put it in its proper home later. She exited the small shop and scanned the quiet agora until a few distant, female voices caught her attention. She scanned the darkening agora, but her excellent vision didn't find the women so she suspected their voices were carrying far. Instead Cameron tilted her head some and listened to the interesting conversation from the three women.

"It's about another three days from Hydrama," a woman reminded her comrades.

"Are you sure, Sarai?"

Sarai quickly replied, "I'm positive."

"I wonder if Queen Gabrielle's army is there already?"

"It is too soon, Merta," Sarai reminded her. "They're probably traveling the same distance as us, but Cyane mobilized us sooner."

"No thanks to the Conqueror," Merta chided.

"If it wasn't for the Conqueror we wouldn't have hoplites back at the Nation guarding things," the third woman argued after Merta's annoyed tone.

"The damn Conqueror is the reason we're going to Amphipolis," Merta bitterly reminded her comrades.

Sarai gave a low sigh and decided to end the argument before it grew. "It doesn't matter. Thrace needs our protection from the Roman dogs." Her tone had grown with disdain. "If we don't stop that legion then Rome will take over Thrace and spread into Greece."

Merta remained silent.

Sarai was satisfied that the argument had mostly ended. She instead switched topics and informed, "I'm going to go to the weapons shop. I'll meet you both at the taverna?"

"I can come with you, Sarai."

"No, I'll be fine, Asta. I just need to grab a handful of arrows for my quiver. I'll see you both there." Sarai broke from the pair and started beelining to the shop. She adjusted her duster closer to her body since it was getting cooler. She was grateful for the torchlight to direct her to the weapons shop.

Sarai rounded a corner, hurried up the street, and spotted the weapons shop straight ahead. She was glad to see the light still coming from the shop's windows. Sarai toyed with her shoulder length, rich black hair after a few strands went into her face. She focused back on the shop as she came closer and now noticed a figure standing off to the side.

Sarai was bewildered until she made out that it was another woman, who was actually younger than her. Sarai approached the shop's front door but gazed at the silent woman. She barely noted a sword handle poking out from the stranger's cloak.

"Shop still open?" Sarai attempted at a conversation.

Cameron's lips slowly thinned, and she looked Sarai up and down. It was simple to conclude that Sarai was an Amazon. She settled her long stare on Sarai's older features, full lips, and bright green eyes. Finally Cameron responded but only with a nod then she walked away.

Sarai rotated on her heels a little and watched the odd stranger go. She could have cut her sword through the thick air if she wanted to, but she instead went into the shop before it closed any moment. She loved the arrows that the shopkeeper kept in stock and still hadn't learned how to reproduce such highly accurate ones like his. Someday she swore she'd learn his secret.

"Sarai," the shopkeeper warmly greeted. He had returned from the back of his shop. He only had half a candlemark left before he closed down for the night.

"Are you closed, Thanatos?" Sarai approached the shopkeeper.

The shopkeeper, Thanatos, smiled and shook his head. "You still have some time." He watched the Amazon's nod.

Sarai wandered down the line of swords, but she was more than happy with her Amazon sword. She'd also heard that her Nation may be having a blacksmith thanks to Queen Gabrielle.

"What brings you to Hydrama? I haven't seen you in several moons."

Sarai came to a slow stop in front of the various bows hanging on the wall. She looked at the shopkeeper. "I'm traveling south to see family," she smoothly lied. "How have you been?" Her eyes traveled back to the bows.

"Pretty good… business is stable." Thanatos leaned against his counter. "How's your Nation been doing? Ready for the oncoming winter?"

"Just about ready." Sarai folded her arms but kept staring at the bows.

Thanatos's eyes trailed up to the beautiful bows that were made by a fine bowyer. "Are you still the finest archer in the Thrace Amazon Nation?" His ears filled with Sarai's low chuckle.

Sarai flashed a grin at Thanatos. "Yes and there will be none finer." Her grin turned more devilish.

Thanatos held out his hand at the bows. "Then the finest archer should have the finest bow." His hand now rested on the counter.

Sarai's grin slipped away, and she let out a sigh. She seriously eyed the beautifully crafted bows and nearly broke down. "Perhaps someday," she quietly granted.

"Hopefully someday soon." Thanatos straightened up from the counter. "Some arrows though?" He received a nod so he disappeared into his storage room for the arrows.

Sarai kept admiring the bows, but she pulled away when she heard Thanatos coming back. She dug out her purse and retrieved the usual amount of coins. "Still the same?"

The shopkeeper set the arrows on the counter. "Only for you, Sarai." He accepted the coins.

"You promised you'd teach me how you make these," Sarai stated. She reminded him every time she purchased them from him.

Thanatos chuckled and smiled at the Amazon. "Yes, but not today." He scooped up the arrows and handed them to her. "Perhaps after you purchase the right bow for them." He winked at her then patted the counter once. "Have a good night, Sarai."

"You too." Sarai swung the arrows behind and slid the tips down into her empty quiver, which poked out from her duster behind her head. "Thanks again, Thanatos." She started for the door.

"Be safe in your travels," the shopkeeper called.

Sarai gave him a quick smile then hurried out the door. She didn't want to keep Asta and Merta waiting long for her. Like them, she was hungry too. Once outside, Sarai noted that the odd stranger was now gone, but she shrugged it off and headed through the quiet agora.

Sarai found the night's chill growing now that the sun was gone. She buttoned up her duster after she crossed the cobble street. Her trained ear picked out the group of footsteps behind her, and she couldn't help but look back over her shoulder. She narrowed her eyes once her sharp vision settled on the three ruffians. Most likely they were road bandits that'd come into town for a night of enjoyment. Sarai gave a small sniff and almost swore she could smell their dirty hides from here.

After a shrug, Sarai attempted ignoring them, yet their increased pace was obvious. Sarai fisted her hands and sent Artemis a plea, more for the men that were obviously following her. However, Artemis wasn't at Sarai's side at that moment and instead the three bandits were quickly on her heels.

"Where you headed, sweetheart?" one bandit leered.

Sarai rolled her eyes despite the prickles crawled up her back. She could sense each bandit's location at her backside. She knew they had no clue she was an Amazon since her duster and the night cloaked her. She decided on taking advantage of her edge and suddenly spun around while going for her sword at her back.

"Hades!" a bandit yelped and stumbled backwards.

The other two bandits backed off but reached for their swords.

Sarai gave a brief cry then attacked the armed bandits before they could come for her. She was swift and aggressive with the bandits. She had no plans to kill them, but she would send them off quite bruised.

The bandit on the right took the Amazon's blade in the right shoulder. He gave a cry then backed off. His features were rather bitter as he gripped his bleeding shoulder. He watched his two comrades continue the fight.

Sarai slammed her left elbow into the bandit that tried coming behind her. She then followed it with a rear kick that sent the bandit flying into the cobblestone street. Just as quickly, she brought her sword around and stopped the last bandit's sword. She parried back and forth with him several times until she broke his defense and knocked his sword from his hand. She pointed her sword's tip at the shocked bandit's throat.

"What are you?" the frozen bandit ushered.

Sarai smirked and softly but proudly replied, "I'm an Amazon." Then something in the bandit's face made her stand on edge. She followed her warrior instincts and spun around with perfect kick at the bandit sneaking up behind her. She sent him flipping into the air and hitting the street's stone curb with an audible smack.

The shocked bandit took a step back but kept his hands up in the air now. He swallowed when fiery green eyes cut back to him. He continued backing away carefully and was relieved the Amazon didn't come after him. He glanced at his moaning comrade. "Get up, Faris."

Sarai moved away too so that she had a better eye on both of them. She watched Faris struggle to get up despite his bleeding features. She pointed her sword at both bandits until they were on their way. Sarai lowered her sword and scanned about, yet she couldn't find the third bandit. She knew she'd caught him in the shoulder. Perhaps he slithered away after being so easily injured by a woman.

Sarai spun her sword once, but she was against putting it away yet. She instead continued in the taverna's direction and listened for any trouble. It didn't take long for her skin's prickling to come back, and she inwardly sighed. All she wanted to do buy arrows, have dinner, and get back to camp where the queen was waiting for her.

After a few more steps, Sarai stopped and turned in a full circle, but she didn't see anything out of the ordinary. She canted her head and picked out low breathing that was too faint to pin point perfectly.

"Alright," Sarai called out, "show yourself." She waited but there was nothing so she decided on baiting her attacker. She faced down the street where she'd come from after she slightly detected the breathing from that area. She held out her arms. "I'll make it real easy for you too." She turned her sword until it pointed at the ground then she dropped it at her feet. "I'm all yours." Slowly a grin crawled over her lips when an overhead warcry rang out.

Sarai quickly faced her attack that leapt off the building's roof and came for her. Now she understood why she couldn't pinpoint her attacker earlier thanks to the small winds carrying the sounds around her.

Sarai left her sword on the ground and instead braced herself for an offensive maneuver. She gritted her teeth after her attacker's down turned sword came into plain view. She took a step forward and raised her hands up just as the bandit's larger body came crashing into her. Sarai dropped down with her knees handling both her weight and the bandit's. Her curled back touched the stone sidewalk as her feet lifted under the bandit's body.

Sarai inhaled deeply and smelled the bandit's disgusting filth. Some of the bandit's blood smeared over Sarai's left palm once they made contact. She even sensed the sharp blade just grazing the top of her head. But she gave a low cry as she rolled on her curved back then proceeded to put all her strength into her legs and arms. Within heartbeats, she launched the bandit across the cobblestone street and towards the opposite sidewalk with all her superior strength.

The bandit screamed again but in fear this time as he collided into the street. He slammed his head against the wood panels of the closed stand. He gave a soft moan but rolled onto his sword's hilt and remained in an unconscious heap.

Sarai rolled onto her knees and admired her own work. She huffed at the bandit's stupidity too. She slid her right foot out the ground then started straightening out her back. It wasn't exactly a move made for stone streets, but it still worked well. Sarai let out a low moan but swallowed it when movements from behind totally caught her off guard.

Sarai was slammed face first into the ground by a heavy kick. She groaned but got her hands under her until she was slammed on the back again.

"How does that curb feel to you?" a bandit snarled. His face was still bloody from earlier. "You fuckin' bitch." Faris then kicked her in the side. He pulled back for another kick until nimble hands grabbed his swinging foot. He yelped, lost his balance thanks to the twist at his ankle, and he tumbled to the ground.

Sarai had a bloody smile at getting Faris. However, she stopped short when the other bandit pointed a sword at her throat. She held her palms out towards the bandit in mild surrender.

"Not fun being on the receiving side huh?" the bandit mocked. He extended his sword until the tip cut into the Amazon's throat. He then used his right foot and scooted the Amazon sword away from the woman's reach.

Faris was cursing as he got back on his feet. He snarled at the Amazon and nearly kicked her again until he thought wiser of it. "Get up," he snapped but reached down and grabbed Sarai's wrist.

Sarai stood up but jerked her wrist free despite it hurt. She glared at both bandits until the blade came closer to her throat. Her dark green eyes locked on the armed bandit.

"Move," he ordered and nodded towards the dim alley.

Sarai gave a low laugh and replied, "I don't think so."

"Well I do," Faris growled. He grabbed the Amazon and tossed her in that direction.

Sarai gritted her teeth but the blade tip at the back of her neck was hard to ignore until her stomach pitched at seeing the alley. Every piece of her told her not to do it.

Faris stayed near the Amazon, but he reached behind his waist where he had a small, empty bag loosely attached to his belt. He freed it and slowly edged closer to the walking Amazon's back. "Keep moving."

Sarai fisted her hands as she came closer to the alley's mouth. She prepared for another fight. All her body tensed as she started turning, but she suddenly was taken over by darkness. Her air was nearly choked off and her throat started locking down from a taut string at the base of her neck. She reached up and clawed at the bag over her face.

"No!" Sarai hollered. But a hard shove sent her tumbling forward, followed by another, and then she hit a rough surface. She pushed off the wall until the back of her knees were painfully slammed, and Sarai fell down into a knelt posture. "No," she called out, but her voice was muffled by the thick bag. She started hyperventilating and air became too thin.

"Go first, Faris," the bandit ordered.

Faris shoved the Amazon against the building again. He held her but grabbed a handful of the bag, which pulled her hair and forced her back up. He could tell she was weakened finally and desperate by her grabs. But he fought her off and pinned her against the wall once she was up. Now he realized just how petite she was despite her muscular, toned body. It was certainly deceiving, but he used his height to overpower her.

The other bandit, Lino, kept a steady eye on the pair. His sword was pointed in the Amazon's direction. And he couldn't keep his eyes off her beautiful body. "Hurry up," he snapped. He wasn't sure how long he could wait his turn. Plus he feared her low cries may just catch a passerby's attention. He knew that Faris would kill the Amazon after they were done.

Lino kept a hungry eye on Faris groping the Amazon until a low movement off to his right jarred him. He nearly jumped when a rat skittered past his boot. He sighed but only for a heartbeat before he struggled for air. Lino tried yelling but his voice was blocked off by the hand around his throat. He was lifted off the ground. As he struggled, he dropped his sword loudly against the stone ground.

"Lino," Faris snapped in annoyance. He twisted his head around and took in Lino's dangling form in midair. He lifted his eyes until he saw the eyes that were lit by a blue fire. His grip loosened on the Amazon.

Lino finally was able to scream but only briefly before he was slammed into the neighboring building. It was so forceful it cracked the back of his skull. Then he tasted metal when blood entered his mouth. He groaned and collapsed to the ground.

Faris had become so distracted that he took a solid elbow into the jaw from the Amazon. He howled and stumbled away. But strong hands grabbed his arm and leg, and he was lifted into the air. He couldn't see anything because it was dark. He screamed in fear and flayed his arms when he was tossed to the ground a few paces away. Faris scrambled to his feet and tried running out of the alley, but he was dragged back into the darkness. Suddenly a hot blade entered his gut and ripped up his chest until it pierced his heart.

Sarai had backed away from the screaming. She fought off the bag over her face, but it was tightly knotted behind her head. She thought she might pass out now from suffocation and heavy breathing. Sarai became further panicked and fell to her knees with her nails clawing at her neck.

Suddenly somebody grabbed her from behind, and Sarai attempted throwing her attacker off, but it was like fighting a stone wall. She was jerked hard once then it all went calm other than her heavy panting. Sarai felt another woman's hands over hers and working the knot free. Sarai dropped her hands out of the way but grabbed at the bag from under her chin. She detected the other woman grabbing it too then suddenly cool air spread over her face. She coughed and leaned forward, her right hand on the cold alley street.

"By the… gods," Sarai gasped. She placed her hand over her pounding heart and sucked in a few more large breaths. She heard the movement behind her again, and she remembered her supposed savior, who hadn't spoken a word. Sarai was jolted to life and spun on her heels as she stood up. She faced her savior yet raised her hands up incase. She blinked several times in hopes her eyes would use the distant torch light in the dark alley.

Slowly Sarai started making out the tall woman's calm features under the faint torch light. She gradually lowered her hands once she realized it was the strange woman she bumped into at Thanatos's store. Sarai opened her mouth, but she didn't find any words at first.

Cameron held the Amazon's long stare then she finally broke it by looking at the black bag in her right hand. She then tossed it onto the ground and started walking out of the alley without a word.

Sarai stood shocked for another beat until it struck her that her savior was leaving. She hurried after the tall woman. "Wait." She reached for the woman's arm but pulled up short when dangerous brown eyes leveled on her.

Cameron stood just beyond the alley, on the quiet street. She questioningly looked at the injured Amazon.

"I…uh…" Sarai swallowed at her own failure to speak. She quickly stated, "Thank you… thank you for your help."

Cameron continued studying the Amazon. She could smell the Amazon's leathers and even the oil left by the Amazon's sword in the sheath. She let out a slow breath then in a monotone stated, "I do not require your gratitude." She turned slightly to her right and walked away without another word or look.

Sarai barely rotated on her heels and watched the lone warrior disappear into the night. She thought her knees would give out any beat. Or perhaps her heart would break from her chest if she didn't take bigger breathes soon. Sarai shakily lifted her right hand and barely managed her fingers through her wavy locks. She released a heavy breath then took careful steps to her sword.

The Amazon sword scraped across the stones a few times until it was lifted into the air. Sarai felt like her sword weighed more than Mount Olympus, yet she somehow managed to carry it on her dazed walk back towards the inns and tavernas. As Sarai made her way to her waiting sisters, she struggled with composing herself, especially her understanding and explanation. If anything, it was the liveliest trip she'd ever had to Thanatos's store for arrows. She would not forget it. However, she prayed that it would never repeat quite like that again.


To be continued.