AN: the war finally nears as Xena comes to a breaking point. And corruption in Egypt lingers. Enjoy ;)

Chapter 22 –The Impostor

Alexander rushed out of the classroom of the school, eager to return to his room he shared with Solan and Belach, to see his new pets that he picked up a few weeks ago. His mother always warned him to stay away from the scorpions in the deserts of Persia, but he saw that these scorpions in Egypt were a lot different and by different, he meant bigger and seemed less harmful. He was able to capture the large black scorpions before they were going to be picked up and eaten on the streets. He couldn't fathom why anyone would want to eat a giant bug anyway.

He ran out and saw Belach waiting for him and Solan, leaning on a stone wall, twirling with his dagger with his wrist steadily. Solan sauntered slowly behind him and saw Aziz and Ishaq cackling behind him, whispering in hushed tones in a language they believed he could not understand.

Alexander ran up to Belach with excitement written all over his flushed face. "Belach, are you ready to go? I want to see Horus and Sekhmet." He spoke of his pet scorpions.

The elder brother shook his head. "We should wait for Solan first," he advised and Alexander sighed heavily and folded his arms as he watched Solan make his way over. Taking his sweet time, he thought.

"Come on, Solan!" the little brunette yelled impatiently.

Solan smiled faintly up at his brother and kept hearing the two boys behind him making small jokes of himself, Belach and Alexander in their mother tongue. He spun around and crossed his arms with a big frown on his face. Aziz and Ishaq stopped in their tracks and copied Solan's stance.

"Something to say?" he asked.

Aziz scoffed, "not really, Greek boy," he snickered as did his brother. "You're in my way."

"You shouldn't say those things about me and my brothers. It might get you in trouble later," Solan warned, refusing to allow the boys to pass.

"Yeah?" Ishaq eyed Alexander and Belach standing a few paces away against a building. "Your brother going to beat me and my brother up or something?" he chuckled at the thought and Aziz rolled his eyes.

Solan nodded his head slowly listening to these two laughing, finding this very amusing. "Just don't try me, okay?" he turned to walk off and Aziz grabbed his shoulder. His eyes widened and he pushed Aziz backward, sending him to the hot sand below.

Belach sheathed his dagger and folded his arms watching the two boys gawking at Solan, ready to strike at any moment. Aziz rose from the sand and brushed off his fancy clothing, glaring at the blonde boy. Alexander backed away slowly, not looking to fight anyone. He grabbed Belach's arm, clutching to it tightly.

"Belach, aren't you gonna do something?" Alexander whispered.

"Not yet," Belach grinned, waiting for the boys to attack Solan, but so far they were all words and no talk. He expected nothing less from two spoiled rich kids like themselves. Aziz and Ishaq hardly did any school work and the teachers didn't seem to bother them about it. He began to think that these boys were more than a couple of troublemakers, but they definitely had some power in this school. He wondered what family they were from, certainly not Roman by the looks of their clothes, language and features. They were dark skinned with dark hair to match and their clothes were not western at all. In fact, they appeared as if they could be from Persia or somewhere nearby.

"You should learn to keep your hands to yourself, Solan," Aziz warned, inching closer and closer to the blonde's face, gaping in his bright blue eyes. "Wouldn't want something to happen to you if word got out that you lay hands on two princes."

Alexander's face lit up. "Princes?" he jolted forward and ran next to Solan. "We are princes too!" he beamed. Aziz and Ishaq raised suspicious eyebrows at the boy and Solan's face drained of color.

Belach gasped and he walked forward, wrapping his hand around Alexander's mouth, pulling him close. "He doesn't know what he's talking about." He gave a sheepish grin.

The two Egyptian princes eyed each other and then looked to the tall brother, towering over the smallest boy. "Prince of what? Some tribe in the Steppes?" Ishaq asked with a light chuckle.

"He has a really overactive imagination. You know how kids can be," Belach said trying to sway the subject from the boys' minds. "Come on, Solan. We need to get back to our room," he urged and Solan frowned at Aziz and Ishaq, trailing beside Belach, while Alexander struggled to get free from his brother's hold.

Upon returning to their room Solan flung his bag across the room and Alexander ran to the window where the scorpion cage was located. He hopped onto a soft cushioned bench and smiled, admiring his new pets. Belach slammed the door behind him and glared at his youngest brother.

"Alexander!" he yelled and the boy cringed at his tone. "You can't tell anyone who you are!"

The boy turned and slumped on the bench. "But, why not? I don't like the way they treat Solan. They should be nicer to us."

"Or they will kill us if they find out who we are," Solan grumbled.

"Or mother will kill them," Alexander grinned and Solan blinked at his brother. He shrugged a shoulder and his smile faded. "What? She would..." he sighed and looked at his two older brothers glaring at him and the room filled with tension. "This sucks. Aziz and Ishaq get special treatment and it's because they are princes. We can get that treatment too!"

Belach rubbed his face and then walked over to his brother, kneeling before him. "Alexander, your mother doesn't want anyone to know who you are. You almost ruined it for everyone! You could have put us all in danger. You don't want that, right?"

"Well, no," the boy sighed, hanging his head. "I'm sorry."

Solan rolled his eyes and plopped down onto his bed, staring at the ceiling. "I hate this place and I hate mother for sending us here. Nobody likes us and we have no friends here."

Belach frowned and stood. "Solan, knock it off. It's not that bad. At least you can outside these walls anytime you want. Couldn't do that in Persia, right?"

"I can do that in Ankara," Solan sat up and glared at his brother. "And I have friends in Ankara. This city is full of smartass rich kids."

Alexander chuckled lightly and received a glare from Belach. "You call these kids rich, but your mother is probably one of the wealthiest people in the world," Belach reminded him. "You are richer than them all," he snickered and Alexander nodded.

"Yeah, well, I don't think about money or status like these kids do. Besides, mother never gives us anything whenever we want," Solan sighed and lay back down on the bed, sulking.

A knock came to the door and all three brothers turned their heads in silence. Belach frowned and opened the door and low and behold, Aziz and Ishaq waltzed into the room uninvited. They smiled upon seeing the room that the boys were given.

"Nice room, one of the best in the city," Ishaq marveled at the marble columns and three large beds. It had three balconies and even a bath inside, which was pretty rare in homes these days. "Very expensive."

Aziz folded his arms, admiring the room, almost as nice as his, maybe even better. "Very expensive, indeed. Who pays for your lodging?"

"Nobody that concerns you," Solan spoke for everyone and Belach eyed him cautiously. "Why are you two here?"

Ishaq grinned and nudged his brother's arm. Aziz began calmly, "we'd like to apologize for what happened earlier. It seems that we may have misunderstood you all. My brother and I would like to invite you to our sister's birthday celebration. Our mother allows us to bring a few guests so we'd like you all to come, if you can of course."

Alexander eyed his brothers, waiting for their response. Solan and Belach shared a silent stare with each other and the younger of the two decided to answer for everyone. "And where is this party?" he asked a nicer voice this time around.

Aziz grinned, "my home in Sharuba. It's about an hour west from here. The party is tomorrow evening and we'd like you three to come. So, will you?"

Belach sighed and nodded. "Fine, we will go."

"We will?" Solan arched an eyebrow and his brother gave him a curt encouraging nod. "We will..." he said with more enthusiasm this time.

"Wonderful," Aziz smiled as did his brother and they turned to leave. "Oh," he stood in the doorway, "you might want to wear something a bit more...fancy to the party, if you have anything of the sort," he chuckled and left with brother in tow.

Belach closed the door and growled. "Pieces of shit," he muttered.

"I can't believe you actually agreed to this," Solan spat and began pacing around the room.

"I love parties! I've never been to one though..." Alexander tapped his cheek. He suddenly wished that he had his finest Persian clothes to wear to the party, although he didn't bring any of those clothes with him.

Belach grinned and opened a chest then pulled out a large bag of ducats. He turned to his brothers with a smug face. "We will buy the finest clothes they have to offer in Alexandria."

"Using mother's money to buy pricey clothes?!" Alexander gasped and ran to his brother, wrapping his arms around his legs. "She will not like this, Belach."

"She doesn't have to find out, right?" Belach said and Solan exhaled heavily.

"We're going to have to ask her for more money next month and she's going to wonder why!" Solan slapped his forehead and fell backward on the bed with a heavy groan.

Belach shrugged, "she'll send it no questions asked. Anyway, want to go to the market or what?" he threw the bag of coin into Solan's face and he caught it with ease.

Amelia fell to the ground with a loud thud and she groaned, staring up at her opponent. "Gabrielle, are you trying to break my back?" she struggled to stand and her opponent helped her up off the ground.

"Nope, just trying to work on my swings. How did I do?" Gabrielle teased and Amelia shot her a menacing glare. "Pretty good, huh?"

Xena approached both girls and smiled, folding her arms. Gabrielle spun around and her eyes widened ever so slightly, surprised to see her here and so close. "Your defense is good, Amelia, but you shouldn't wait for your opponent to strike. You should already know her moves. Gabrielle can be very dangerous," she winked and Gabrielle blushed slightly.

"Yes, empress. I will try better next time," Amelia said meekly and lowered her gaze.

Dajan came running outside on the training grounds and approached Xena. "Empress, your guest arrives."

Xena's eyebrow arched and she clapped her hands together. "Finally," she muttered. Then she turned around to face the trainees. "Girls, you are finished for now. Join me inside when you have put away your weapons." She smirked and sauntered inside with Dajan treading behind her.

Natassa walked into the entrance of Xena's huge palace. Her eyes scanned the palace for the first time. She had never left her tribe from the Steppes and Ankara. A palace like this she had only heard of from Alexander and Solan, but she had never seen something so grand and so austere. Everything was marble and there were huge arched windows with flowing red draperies gently swaying in the breeze outside.

She was able to see the gardens from here and then saw Xena coming in from outside, dressed in black pants, tunic and knee high boots. It had been awhile since she had seen the woman whom she did not like, but she was different. Her hair shorter, but still long enough. The scar on her neck was visible and she was no longer wearing her sultan garb that she had grown accustomed to for many years now. No, she was just regular Xena, the Xena she used to know. Or was she?

Xena couldn't wipe the smile off her face upon seeing Natassa. She folded her arms and stopped a mere few feet from the woman. Her eyes roamed Natassa's attire and saw she still clung to her black and burgundy long sleeve dress with her coined headdress. Much of the same, she noticed. Her blue eyes stone cold as was her expression. Her long dark hair, reaching to her hips and rather wild from her journey from Anatolia.

"Natassa," she began and kept grinning, her eyes growing as she saw the woman's distain for her increase even more.

"Xena," Natassa said lowly. "Your nice."

Xena nodded, "it is, isn't it? I'd love to give you a tour sometime," she said and almost waited for a reaction, but all she got was silence.

"I'm only here because Borias forced me to come. I would never dare step foot in your home out of my own free will," Natassa said and the empress smirked, scoffing softly.

"And you are here because I was so kind to allow you to stay. I could have turned you away, but I didn't, now did I?" she hummed softly and wrapped her arm around her and Natassa stiffened from her touch. "Now, we are going to behave ourselves, right? We can make this living arrangement a living hell or we can learn to get along. What's it going to be, huh?" she hissed in her ear.

Natassa's eyebrows furrowed and she slowly turned her head to see the look in Xena's eyes. She'd seen that look before. "I can't promise a thing."

"Good enough," Xena smiled and saw all the girls run inside, sweaty and exhausted from their training session. They all stopped in the middle of the entrance once they saw her with a woman, a woman that they had never seen before.

"Oh girls," Xena clung onto Natassa, attempting to make her as uncomfortable as possible. "This is Natassa Khatun. She will be staying with us for awhile. She is Belach's mother and I want to make sure that you all show her the utmost respect while she's here, is that understood?"

All the girls nodded silently and Natassa's eyes grew in shock. Respect. Natassa wasn't expecting Xena to say anything like that. She half expected her to say something rude or something outright, but when she didn't, that really took her for surprise.

"Good, you all can go to your room and clean up. I have decided that we should eat dinner altogether," Xena smiled and then pulled Natassa with her down the hallway.

Natassa peered over her shoulder watching the girls descend down a different hall, then whipped her head around, glaring at Xena. "What are you doing?!" she pulled away from the empress's arms.

Xena frowned in confusion. "Showing you to your room. You will sleep in my wing, close to me, very close..." she leaned in and Natassa backed away slowly.

"No, why are you being nice to me?"

"Would you rather I show you the same treatment you showed me so long ago, Natassa? Would you like that?" Xena folded her arms, glaring into the woman's blue eyes filled with fury.

Natassa copied Xena's stance. "You slept with my husband. I do not think that I should have shown you respect, Xena."

The empress nodded slowly. "We all make mistakes. He is all yours now," she said in a teasing tone. "Will you follow me to your room, now?" she took off and Natassa groaned.

"You are using Borias, Xena! Like you always have with your frivolous wars! Now you use my son to babysit your bastard sons while you hide in your grandeur palace!"

Xena halted and spun around, almost tempted to strike this woman where she stood, but she refrained. "I am not using Belach to do anything, Natassa. He stayed with my sons on his own accord. I am not forcing him to stay with them. They are well taken care of without him there."

"Then why does he stay in Alexandria? He has no reason to abide by your rules!"

Xena steadied herself and inhaled deeply, trying to remain calm. She walked forward, inches from Natassa's face. "As I said, I am not forcing him to stay there. Despite what you believe in that little head of yours, I don't hate Belach. I would save his life before mine if I had to." She said lowly and saw Natassa's eyes widen.

Thirteen Years Ago

Xena took Belach with her far from the campgrounds to evade the chaos and invasion of the Templar Knights. She trotted in the dark, approaching a forest ahead. She yanked on the reins of the horse and skid to a stop. She felt Belach's small arms wrapped around her, breathing heavily as his cheek was pressed against her backside.

"We will have to stay out here for awhile until we can go back," she said softly and she heard him sobbing softly, wetting her coat. She frowned sadly hearing the boy sob softly, as if trying to hide his emotions. It was quite a sight to see his people being massacred like that at his age.

She heard a snap of a twig and unsheathed her sword, turning her horse around, scanning the area. She then saw two knights lurking in the shadows upon their horses with sword in hand.

One knight trotted forward, his teeth glistening in the moonlight. Xena frowned and pointed her sword towards him. "A Steppe woman. You are with Osman's tribe are you not?"

"I am not," she answered curtly. "Be on your way before someone gets hurt."

"A foolish woman you are. Willing to risk your life and with a child on your back?" he eyed the brown eyed boy, clutching to her for dear life. "Get her," he ordered his accomplice.

The Templar charged forward and their swords clashed together. She grit her teeth and was able to push him back. She swung her sword and sliced his arm. Though, the sight of his blade frightened her horse and it reared on its hind legs. Belach lost grip of her and fell on his back.

She spun around and gasped. "Belach!" she saw the fear in his eyes and began scooting away on the grass. She reached down as far as she could to grab his hand, but he was too dumbstruck to move. She felt a sting on her back and she cried out in agony.

Her hand went to her shoulder blade and felt blood seeping from a fresh wound by the knight's blade. She snarled and turned to face the templars but then a loud horn was sounded from beyond, from the camp.

"Leave her," the knight said, "we must return to the rest of the men." He smirked at her then trotted off with his partner.

Xena hissed and sheathed her sword, exhaling heavily. Peering down she saw the fear instilled in the boy's eyes and grabbed his arm, hoisting him up on her horse then soon left the area.

Upon coming to the forest ahead, she sat against a tree and took off her coat, tending to her gash on her shoulder. She slipped her sleeve off, exposing her bare shoulder and dabbed the gash with a cloth, wincing at the stinging pain.

Belach sat beside her, playing with a long piece of wheat and she turned her head, staring at him with soft eyes. Setting the cloth down, she carefully slipped the dress back onto her wounded shoulder. He eyed the bloody cloth and his mouth gaped.

"You are hurt," he said bluntly and looked up into her eyes.

She smiled softly, "just a scratch," she lamented and his eyes lowered. She wrapped her arm around his small frame. "Those knights are pretty scary, huh?" she asked.

He nodded silently and brought his knees to his chin, staring at the full moon above in the sky. "We...go home now?" he asked in a sweet small voice.

She sighed. "Not yet. We will have to wait until morning."

He gasped, "morning?!"

She nodded, "afraid so, but don't worry, you'll see your mother soon."

He yawned and leaned against her breast, cradled in her arm. He closed his hooded eyes and brought his legs close to him, wrapping his arms around himself, soon falling into a light slumber. She sighed and leaned her head against the tree, staring at the bright moon, waiting for morning to come.

Xena sat at her vanity, running her fingers through her hair. She asked all of the girls to join her for dinner this evening and that included Natassa. As much as she wanted to strangle the woman, she kept thinking about what Gabrielle said. Whether she liked it or not, Natassa was a part of her family –her very strange family.

The woman was so bitter even still. So many years later, she still felt hatred towards Xena, and of course the empress could not blame the woman. Although, she believed that Natassa wanted a reason to be angry at everything, including Borias and even Belach at times. She figured that Natassa was unable to let go of the past and leave it behind her.

Pounding on her door interrupted her thoughts. She frowned and suddenly Dajan rushed inside her bedroom with blood upon his hands. "Xena, you must come to the entrance."

She stood from her chair, dressed in a black and gold dress, far different from her sparring garb from earlier today. "What happened?" she grabbed her sword from the table and brushed by him.

Natassa stepped out of her room from across the hall and saw Xena storming down the hall, ready to trail down the stairs. She frowned slightly and looped the earring in her lobe. "What is going on?"

Xena halted and pointed the sword directly in the tribal woman's face. "You stay here." She ordered.

"You can't –"

"You stay in your room until I tell you otherwise!" Xena yelled and Natassa's lips parted, speechless. She then marched off with Dajan ahead of her already.

Xena came to the west entrance and saw three dead soldiers lying on her floor. She frowned and flipped one of the men over with her foot. "Saladin's men," she noted.

Dajan nodded, "they were delivered to the gates not too long ago."

"By who?" she spun around, gently swaying her sword back and forth impatiently.

"We do not know, Xena," he hated to admit. "They were delivered by horseback but it was too dark to see who came to the gates."

"Where is Saladin?"

"I...I'm afraid to tell you that I do not know the answer to that question either, empress," he sighed and saw her nod her head slowly, very dissatisfied with this news.

"Fantastic," she muttered. She waved her sword at the dead Saracens. "Dispose of the bodies and I will go scout the city for myself." She turned around and saw a horde of girls gawking with fearful eyes. I don't need this right now, she thought. "Return to your room, all of you."

The girls slowly began walking down the long corridor and she groaned, making her way back to her room before she was called for. "Xena!" that voice, the voice she did not want to hear right now.

Regrettably, she turned around and frowned heavily. "What is it Gabrielle?"

"You're going to scout the city. Let me come with you," the blonde offered with an eager glimmer in her emerald eyes.

Xena rumbled and ignored her statement then headed up to her room to put on a more suitable attire to ride into the city. Gabrielle gasped and trailed up the staircase just a few steps behind her. "Xena, please? I want to help."

"Not this time Gabrielle."

"Why not? I have come all the other times. What makes this time any different?" Gabrielle proceeded and Xena walked into her room, nearly slamming the door in the blonde's face. Gabrielle caught the door and stormed inside. "Xena!"

"Gabrielle!" the empress's lips quivered in rage. "I am ordering you to stay behind. When dead soldiers are delivered to my doorstep, it is not because someone is giving me a gift. They are condemning me and asking for a war!"

The blonde folded her arms and Xena turned around, stripping herself of her nice black gown into her pants, tunic and boots. "What good are we girls if you aren't ever going to use us for real war? All we've done is train and hardly seen any action."

Xena chuckled, "the Templars in Persia wasn't enough action for you?" she said mockingly.

"We can help you. Let us," Gabrielle wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer. Xena laced up her boots and turned to look at the determination in her eyes. She is too eager, Xena thought, but how could I say no to help that I need, again?

The bag was ripped off of Saladin's head and he growled upon seeing at least one hundred Templar Knights standing around him, staring at him as if he were a piece of meat. His eyes scanned the area and he saw that he was inside of a church by the architecture, though he supposed they were in a secret room below the large Cathedral.

Joseph grinned and knelt down in front of the Saracen. "You allied with the wrong person, Saladin." He hissed. "Baldwin told us what you are planning. How did you convince the cross-dressing empress to ally with you? Did she use her charm and her wits? Did she seduce you with her blue eyes and red lips?"

He grabbed hold of Saladin's throat, squeezing tightly. The Kurdish commander coughed, glaring into the Templar's eyes. "She...used...her political skills," he croaked and Joseph released his throat. He began hacking violently and another knight stood behind him, tightening the ropes around his wrists and he groaned lowly.

"You and I are not so different, Kurd. You are a God fearing man as am I. You may believe that Xena is on your side, but she is not. She is not a God fearing woman, she is a heathen, an infidel or...kafar, as you people say."

Saladin spat at the knight's boots in disgust. "I care not if she is a believer in my faith or yours. You are wrong not to ally with her. She will destroy you or have you not seen what she is capable of?" he grinned, chuckling weakly.

Joseph's eyes grew with malice just hearing this Saracen speak upon Xena's behalf as if she were a good woman. She is not. She is a heathen. He slapped Saladin across the face and leaned down, ripping off his black turban from his head, exposing his long dark hair.

"She will damn to you to Hell, Saladin. Do you not care about your soul? What will she do to your soul? She will corrupt it –destroy it from the inside out! She needs to be gotten rid of! She should have been taken care of long ago, yet she lives."

"Due to your incompetence," Saladin grinned smugly.

Joseph was about to strike the arrogant Saracen again until Baldwin stepped into the room. "Templar!" he yelled and the young knight slowly retracted his hand, though kept his eye on Saladin the entire time. Baldwin walked in between the horde of knights and fixed his gloves upon his hands.

Saladin's smile faded and looked into the eyes in the slits of the silver mask upon Baldwin's face. It was impossible to see what he was thinking, much like his first encounter with Xena. Although, he knew Baldwin well, long before his face became deformed and diseased.

"I warned you to stay away," Saladin hissed.

Baldwin folded his arms, cocking his head ever so slightly. "I did not heed your warning, Saladin. I'll have you know that Xena will soon find her city up in flames and her citizens turned against her."

The Kurd's eyes widened and mouth gaped. "What have you done?"

Baldwin snorted and paced around the chair Saladin sat in. "I may have paid a visit to Xena's city of Thebes. Her citizens do not know what she looks like and they do not know of me either. I torched the entire inner workings of the city in honor of her name. You should have seen their faces, their eyes, filled with fear and anger at their leader. They will really despise her after what she has done."

Saladin growled. "You personified Xena and burned her own city?! Why would you do such a thing? She has done nothing to you! She does not even know you exist!"

"Oh, but she will. She is a smart woman especially since she has run an entire empire for a decade. I must commend her on her bravery and vigilance. But, I plan to put that to an end. Jerusalem will be mine and I will be King of the Holy Land again just as I was before and I will not let a simple woman get in my way."

Saladin grinned and began laughing after hearing Baldwin's lengthy speech. He was truly amused. "She will come for you, Baldwin, and she will destroy you."

Baldwin sighed heavily and he smiled, adjusting his silver plated mask. "No, Saladin. I won't destroy her." He said and turned his head slowly, narrowing his sickly eyes at the Saracen. "You will."

He continued, "we both want Jerusalem and the only person standing in the way of that is Xena. Join me to defeat her and we can sort out our differences later. Like old times, eh?"

Xena, her army and a few selected girls trotted into the city of Thebes and saw it was up in flames. People were running around panicking trying to put out the fires in their homes and helping others escape the roaring flames.

Gabrielle gasped loudly and she couldn't believe the sight before her. It was like hellfire on earth, literally. She snapped her head around and saw a ten foot guardian angel statue at one of the old temples converted into a church, slowly topple over crash onto the burning ground, nearly crushing a few people running by.

"What is this..." Xena growled. She waved her hand at her men. "Go to the cisterns! Put out these fires!" she yelled and the dismounted their horses, quickly making their way to the cisterns in the outskirts of the square.

On top of the ancient Greek temple, a newly built twenty foot high crucifix was up in flames and slowly teetering downward, tempting to fall from the roof.

Gabrielle trotted on her horse and looked at the horror in Xena's eyes as she watched her beloved city burning to the ground. "Who do you think did this?"

Xena's jaw tightened and she hopped off her horse, ready to find some answers for herself. She grabbed a young man running past her by his arm. He breathed heavily, staring into her eyes. "Please! Don't hurt me!" he begged.

"Who did this?" she asked and he cringed at her tone. "Tell me!"

"The...the empress!" he croaked and Xena arched an eyebrow. "She torched the entire square!" sweat began dripping down his forehead. "Please!"

She released the young Greek man and he ran off, brushing by her shoulder. The more she thought about someone posing as her to act in revenge only made her blood boil. Gabrielle dismounted her horse and ran to Xena's side.

"Did he just say that you did all this?" she asked.

"Turning my people against me..." the empress hissed and heard all of the screams of terror throughout the square. Those screams she had heard before in the hands of the Templar Knights who attacked Osman's tribe in the Steppes long ago. She hated to hear those screams and she did not want to be the cause of it all, but it seems she was by proxy.

"Very clever, Templars," she smirked. "When I find out who is responsible for this they will not have their tongue nor any of their limbs when I am finished with them."

Gabrielle blinked and looked to the soldiers putting out fires with large buckets of water. Slowly, the fire was dissipating, but not fast enough. Another side that not many saw of Xena was her vengeful side. Gabrielle witnessed it when she killed all of the men on her court earlier this year. Xena gave them slow and painful deaths. Gabrielle was not sure if all the other girls knew what Xena was capable of. They had only seen the nicer and kinder side of the empress, but there was a hidden side to her, a dark hidden side. A side that not most people saw everyday and she was sure that Xena did not show that side of her very often, except when necessary.

The crucifix atop of the Greek temple broke off from its mount and fell into the fountain below, breaking the angel statue into several pieces from its heavy weight. Everyone panicked and screamed, running throughout the square. They ran by Xena, completely unaware of who she was, but she began to think that was a good thing at the moment.

"Xena..." Gabrielle spoke softly and lay a hand on the empress's shoulder. Xena stiffened at the touch. "We need to do something to help these people."

At that very moment Xena felt so enraged that someone was able to pose as her and not only set her city up in flames, but kill innocent people. She was never one to kill innocent people in her entire life. She also felt like her anger was getting in the way of everything and the more she looked at her burning city and hear the screams of horror, the more angry she became; the more she wanted to withdraw her sword and stab the screaming people to silence –silence them all.

She did not want to hear anyone else yelling for their lives, crying or shouting profanities about her when she stood right in their presence. They were oblivious, all of them, she thought. She never felt so disconnected from her people until this very moment. They had no idea who she was but now knew she was a woman as news spreads fast, but they did not her face. They only knew the mask she hid behind for several years.

While she was used to people looking to her in fear, it was mostly due to her mysterious and intimidating appearance, not because of any act she did. She never murdered any of her citizens. The only fear that stemmed in the people's mind were made up in their own heads, their own fantasies about the emperor/sultan. Now, they had the right to fear her because they believed she did this to her own people and city.

They fear me, Xena frowned sadly. She turned to look into Gabrielle's concerned eyes. She saw her lips moving, but she couldn't register what she was saying. Has she been talking this entire time? She wondered.

"Xena, did you hear me?" Gabrielle repeated, widening her eyes, staring at Xena. This expression worried her very much and the lack of response only worried her more.

"What did you say?"

The blonde exhaled softly. "I said we need to help these people. They're running amuck."

Xena nodded and looked to her burning city. Her men desperately trying to put out the larger fires first ahead of the smaller ones. But in her eyes, this was a giant fire –a giant massacre.

" them. You're right Gabrielle," she gave a faint smile and Gabrielle smiled back at her uncertainly.

I see rage in your eyes, Xena, a lot of anger and hatred circling in those enlarged pupils of yours. What are you thinking?

Solan, Alexander and Belach arrived to the Egyptian brothers' party they were invited to in Sharuba, albeit a bit late. The three boys walked inside the large villa set in the middle of the desert, not like the coastline city of Alexandria at all.

"Nice place," Solan observed as his eyes scanned the large place.

Alexander shrugged his shoulder. "Mother's palace is bigger." He said with a nonchalant attitude.

Aziz and Ishaq ceased conversation once their eyes were set upon the Greek boys standing in the center of the room, surrounded by guests. They both smiled and waltzed over to them. Belach frowned, folding his arms, while Alexander stuck close by to his blonde brother.

"So glad you could make it, guys," Aziz said with a warm smile. His eyes widened as saw the three wearing very nice clothing, clothing fit for royalty indeed. "Where did you come upon robes such as these?" his fingers grazed Belach's gold stitched vest.

"Well, it is a party isn't it?" Solan teased and Aziz nodded slowly as a frown appeared on his lips.

"Allow my brother and I to introduce you to our mother," the boy grinned and they walked over to their mother standing with a few women, talking away.

Ishaq tapped his mother's shoulder gently and she turned around, smiling at her sons. Alexander's eyes grew as soon as he saw their mother. She had pale skin, green eyes and her hair hidden with an elaborate veil, much like the women he saw in Ankara.

"This is our mother, Ismat Khatun," Ishaq said.

Solan smiled and bowed his head curtly. Belach pursed his lips and gave a short nod of his head, while Alexander remained dumbstruck.

"Khatun?" Alexander frowned. "You go by the name of Khatun?" he was quickly reminded of his stepmother, Natassa Khatun with the same title.

Belach and Solan shared a nervous glance, afraid that their little brother was going to give themselves away.

Aziz chuckled, "it means Lady," he said.

Alexander shot him a glare. "I know what it means," he spat.

Belach laughed nervously and squeezed his brother's shoulder. "What he means is mother goes by the same title."

Ismat nodded with a big grin on her lips. "I see. Where are you all from? We must share the same culture and customs."

Solan's face paled and Belach spoke for them all, "Ankara, Khatun," he answered politely.

"Ankara!" Ismat's smile widened. "You are Anatolian boys. How nice, I come from Syria. I am sure you have been there?"

Sidon is all Solan could think about and what hell that man caused for his entire family, his mother specifically. "Oh we know about Syria, but never been there." Solan addressed her.

"You should go sometime, it is very beautiful. Although I imagine you would have a hard time traveling while the Greek empress is in charge of Persia." She sighed and Solan's eyes darkened.

"You shouldn't talk badly about her, Khatun," Alexander said with creased eyebrows.

Ismat's smile faded and Solan covered his brother's mouth. Belach sighed heavily. "Don't mind him, he has a big mouth."

Ismat grin returned once more. "He is a sweet boy. As much as I'd love to keep conversing with you boys, I must attend to my daughter. Excuse me," she bowed her head then quickly left the room with a few women following her.

Ishaq snarled at the three boys. "Anatolia, huh? Who would've thought?"

"You should keep a tight hold on your brother. Nobody speaks to my mother that way," Aziz said.

Belach smiled tightly at the two boys and once they left the area, he glared down at his littlest brother. "Alexander! You almost blew it again! You can't keep popping off like that!"

Alexander shoved Solan away from him. "She can't talk about mother like that, Belach! She is an empress. Much better than a simple khatun!" he whispered in a harsh voice.

"We're supposed to be keeping a low profile, Alexander," Solan whispered in his ear.

Alexander huffed and crossed his arms. "I hate this party already."

"Wow, he's a real downer," Belach smirked. "Maybe a few glasses of wine would loosen him up," he grinned and picked up two glasses as a tray went by.

"Belach!" Solan gasped.

"Kidding," the elder brother winked. He sipped the bitter wine and looked to Solan. "You're in charge of the twerp for the evening. I am going to mingle."

"What?! Belach! No!" Solan hissed but it was too late, Belach already left the room and entered another. "Great," he muttered.

He felt a tug on his sleeve and peered down at his brother. "Solan, I want to go back to Alexandria," Alexander frowned. This is going to be a long night, Solan thought.

Hours later after Aziz's and Ishaq's sister, Nour, was given proper introduction, Belach thought to mingle around without the presence of his brothers. It wasn't that he didn't like hanging out with Solan and Alexander, but it was nice to get away from them for awhile. As he stayed in Alexandria, he realized that his brothers were very fun to be around and he enjoyed their company now much more than he did in Ankara. He never thought he would admit that until now.

Belach came into a room filled with older men and young, probably only a few years his elder. He frowned and held a cup of wine in his hands, weaving through the men as they talked among themselves. Finally, a room without a bunch of kids and women. All the women here were friends of Ismat Khatun. He had yet to figure out who these people were, but they were of some importance it seemed.

It felt almost wrong to eavesdrop on these men, but he was too curious to at least hear what they were talking about. And it wasn't like he didn't blend in with these people. He realized that these people were not of Egyptian origin at all by their clothing, their names, and facial features. They were either from Syria like Ismat Khatun or somewhere else. Perhaps the Steppes, he wondered?

"Saladin is in Thebes at the moment," one of the men spoke loudly and Belach's eyes widened. He slowly traced his steps back and had his back turned, listening to these three men conversing.

"Thebes? What could possibly be in Thebes?" another man asked with a light chuckle.

"The Empress of Greece of course, Afendim," the man said with a smile. "He wants an alliance with her so he can once again rule over Jerusalem."

"What a fool he is to ally with a woman! She used to dress as a male, did she not?"

Belach frowned and backed up closer to listen. They are talking about Xena, but why? And who is Saladin? Whoever he is he must be important and obviously Aziz and Ishaq were Saladin's sons and Ismat his wife. It was too obvious.

"I only hope he destroys her so he can take over her vast empire. We will rise to the top once more as we did long before Xena came along. She has corrupted the holy land as Sidon once did."

"But she has killed Sidon!" one man exclaimed with a huge grin.

"She kills everyone in her path it seems. It is she who will be met at the end of Saladin's sword, God willing."

Belach's mouth parted and one of the men bumped into him and he spilled his wine. The Saracen frowned and saw wine spilled all over the boy. "Apologies, boy. I did not see you there." He grinned and offered to clean his robes with a cloth.

"No, no, it's alright. It was my fault..." Belach brushed off the wine from his clothing and smiled briefly at the elderly men. "Excuse me," he said then hurried out of the room.

He rounded the corner and saw his brothers talking to some of their classmates. He grabbed Solan and Alexander by their arms and scurried off. Solan groaned and pulled away. "What gives?!"

"We need to get out of here," Belach said as they were already heading outside.

"But I was just starting to have fun!" Alexander whined.

Belach stopped and spun around. "We cannot be friends with these people!" he hissed and was wary of all the people passing them by. Xena seemed to have enemies across the Mediterranean he guessed. Enemies everywhere.

Solan saw the concern and even fear in his brother's eyes. "What are you talking about?"

He breathed in deeply and brought them further outside to a secluded area. "I heard a few men talking about Xena. This person, Saladin, which I guess is Aziz's and Ishaq's father, is in Thebes right now. He wants to ally with her." He saw the shock in his both his brothers' eyes. "But I don't think Saladin wants an alliance."

"You mean...he wants to kill her?" Solan hesitantly asked and Belach nodded.

Alexander gasped and cupped his cheeks. "Oh no! We must do something! I can't go through this again! Those stupid Syrians!" he growled and a few eyes turned their way.

"I don't think these people are Syrian, kiddo," Belach said.

Alexander shook his head and took both his brothers' hands and began marching off into the dark desert. "We must write mother. No time to waste!" he groaned as he pulled them along. He struggled. "Come on you two!"

Solan smirked and Belach picked up Alexander and threw him over his shoulders. "You are something else," Belach said, wagging his head.

"He's right though. We should warn her. She probably doesn't know, Belach." Solan advised.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm getting real tired of saving your mother. She so owes me."