Hello again! For those of you who read/reviewed chapter one, I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. Anyway, I don't own anything. Please R&R!
Ch.2: An Interesting Proposition
"Xena! Gabby!" Salmoneus greeted, wrapping them both in a bear hug. "I'm so glad to see you!" As he pulled away, he attempted to grab one of Xena's breasts, but exclaimed in pain as he found his wrist twisted sharply.
"It's good to see you too, Salmoneus. Now get to the point; why are we here?" Ever since they'd come across the scorched body in the road, Xena's mind had been elsewhere. She decided to finish what they came for as quickly as possible and then hunt for Callisto. "Not another beauty pageant, I hope."
"Well…" Sal shrunk under the warrior's disapproving glare, "singing contest, actually." Then as Xena opened her mouth in what was sure to be a protest, he rushed to explain a further detail. "Oh, but you won't have to wear a dress."
"So what's the problem?" Gabrielle piped up, wondering how they came to be in this city.
"Apparently, one of the contestants—Celeste—has been targeted. There have already been two attempts on the girl's life. It was only by sheer luck that they didn't succeed." Salmoneus wrung his hands nervously as he spoke. If one of the contestants were to be harmed it would mean his hide.
"That sounds simple enough," Xena spoke up, "I'll just enter the contest myself posing as this Celeste woman."
Salmoneus shook his head, "No, no, no. You don't look enough like her. Even with a wig, anyone would spot you a mile off. I'm afraid you'll have to infiltrate the contest."
"Hey, what about me?" Gabrielle asked in a somewhat indignant tone. The travelling salesman laughed outright at the question while Xena tried desperately, but in vain, to keep a smile from spreading across her face.
"Gabrielle…it's a singing contest." Salmoneus pointed out, receiving a glare from the Amazon Queen before she turned to address Xena. "That's figured out, now what about Callisto?"
Salmoneus perked up at the name, his reaction wasn't the expected one of fear, but one of interest.
"I don't know, I haven't gotten that far. We can't kill her, so we need some way to trap her again."
"Wait a minute," Salmoneus broke up their private conversation, "Did you say…Callisto?"
With hatred in her eyes and anger coating her otherwise calm voice, Xena answered, "That's right."
"You mean the Callisto?"
Gabrielle arched an eyebrow at his odd behavior, "Are you a fan, Salmoneus?"
"No, no. Don't be absurd. It's just that…Callisto would be a dead ringer for Celeste." He rubbed his beard thoughtfully, pondering the possibility. True enough it would be beyond impossible to convince someone such as Callisto to enter a singing competition, but if anyone could to it, Xena was the person for the job.
"Wait, what are you saying, Salmoneus?" Gabrielle asked with wide eyes, "Are you suggesting that we convince one of the most vicious killers in Greece to parade around in some contest to save someone's life?" Are you insane?!"
"Can she sing?" Salmoneus wondered, almost completely ignoring the bard's rant.
Xena deadpanned, "We don't know. In all the fighting it never came up." Her demeanor changed as she bore harshly into the man before her with an icy glare, "And anyway, why would I work with the woman who helped kill my son?"
The bard felt a mix of guilt, sadness, and anger at the warrior's words. Unintentional as it was, she had also helped to kill Solan. No matter how far behind them the pair put the Hope incident, that was a fact that neither could ever erase. Also, given the fact that Gabrielle was still Xena's best friend and that Callisto had once worked with them despite her own pain, she found Xena's stance on the issue to be hypocritical.
"What about Callisto?" Gabrielle spoke up, looking Xena directly in the eyes with a fierce gaze. "She helped us defeat Velasca and you were responsible for the death of her entire family."
Xena opened her mouth to try and argue the point, but Gabrielle stood her ground. This was an argument worth having. "No Xena. She may be a bigger monster than you used to be, but what she did to you is no different from what you did to her."
The words were harsh—harsh enough to snap the Warrior Princess out of her blind hatred as if she'd been struck like a whip, but the tone was gentle and lacking in any trace of accusation. Xena nodded at the truth of her friend's speech. This wasn't about her anyway; it was about the life of an innocent woman.
Xena addressed Salmoneus, "We'll see what we can do. If you need us you can find us at the tavern."
"Oh, thank you!" He cried, shaking their hands as they headed off in the direction of the local watering hole.
"So, what are we going to do once we find her?" Gabrielle asked, taking a sip of the wine in front of her, "She's already a Goddess, it's not like she has any incentive to help us."
"Ah. One step ahead of you." Xena raised a finger. The confused look that fell over her friend's face prompted her to elaborate. "What does Callisto want more than anything else…even more than to get revenge on me?"
"To die, but Xena…"
"Which is why we tell her that I have the Dagger of Helios; she's been in that cave for months. For all she knows, we've been travelling around looking for a way to kill a god just to get back at her."
"But we don't have the dagger." Gabrielle's expression went flat as she wondered how Xena could overlook such an obvious flaw in the plan.
"No," Xena smirked and the bard could see the gears turning behind her eyes, "but we don't need it. When I sent you to get our drinks here, I stopped off at the blacksmith and gave him a simple sketch. It should be enough to fool someone who's never seen the dagger."
With that explanation, the amazon seemed to be more accepting of the plan and went back to sipping on wine. "So, I guess we should go see to the girl then? It'll be a bit before that dagger is ready."
Xena nodded her agreement, but was interrupted from saying anything by a loud and boisterous yell from the doorway.
The women both turned in response and Xena cracked a wry smile at the sight of the man who had called for her; just another sore loser with a score to settle.
"Tyndareus, you're looking well." She spoke coolly, addressing the man who had walked into the tavern in front of the bitter warlord and then pretended to examine the latter more closely, "but I think you have something stuck on your boot. No, I'm wrong; it's just Bardas."
Tyndareus and several of the other men in the tavern snickered at the comment while Bardas began seething even more than he already was. "You bitch!"
This only caused Xena's smirk to widen and Gabrielle noted the sparkle of mischief in her eyes. She decided to sit back and watch as it seemed that there was no real threat here and the man would be taken care of soon enough.
"That's no way to talk to a woman, Bardas. I take it the last lesson I gave you didn't teach you any manners." Xena was still relaxed in her chair with feet now propped up on the table, but the fingers of her left hand lightly traced her whip. Her eyes were locked with his and there was a playful gleam about them, but at the same time there was a seriousness that both warned him to stay away and dared him to attack. The ball was firmly in his court.
He huffed at Xena's remark. "Manners? Manners are for royalty. I'll show you what I know." Just about every occupant in the tavern aside from the bard and warrior princess cringed as he spoke, knowing that what was to come next wouldn't be pretty. And indeed it wasn't.
In a surprising display of agility for his bulky size, the man unsheathed a knife and leaped into the air towards the table, only to have Xena's whip wrap around his ankle and bring him crashing down back to the ground with a loud thud. Each time he tried to get up, Xena would yank the whip and send him crashing into an obstacle. Six attempts later, he finally begged for her to stop and walked out of the pub with his tail between his legs.
Xena smiled, standing up and leaving a few coins on the table while several of the patrons cheered.
"Now, let's go see about that girl."
"You!" Celeste's shout was accompanied by various objects being thrown from her room and in the direction of the Warrior Princess while Salmoneus and Gabrielle urged her to calm down. Xena just stood in the hallway with a mixture of supreme shock and confusion written on her face as more objects occasionally went flying in her direction.
From the moment she had laid eyes on Celeste there was no denying it: She and Callisto were related. But it couldn't be, could it? Callisto had always claimed that she was the only member of the family to survive the raid on Cirra.
Maybe she just thought she was.
No matter how they had come to find themselves in this predicament, the task Salmoneus had given them had just been made even more difficult.
Through all of the incoherent crying and babbling, they could make out cries of "She killed my family!" and "My baby sister!" That made both Xena and Gabrielle's hearts break for the woman. While reuniting the two sisters within their capability, Callisto was so far gone that the prospect of a happy reunion seemed out of reach. Gabrielle didn't even have to look at Xena to know that she was beating herself up over this.
Several more minutes passed before Celeste regained her senses. It was then that Xena moved for the first time since they arrived at the girl's room. She knew what she had to do.
"Celeste?" She spoke gently and soothingly, "Look at me." She was almost verbally prodding the girl to look her in the face.
Surprisingly, Celeste did as Xena asked with no resistance and when she did, she was surprised to see tears in the eyes of the woman who had killed her family. "What do you see?" Xena asked, letting her emotional guard down and letting the normally stoic expression she wore crumble.
Again, the blonde did as she was asked and looked hard into those blue eyes. The first thing that struck her was how soft they looked. The last time she had laid eyes on Xena, those eyes were cold and betrayed no emotion, nor did her face. Now, though, Celeste was able to read numerous different emotions: sorrow, guilt, regret, and even compassion. It was hard to believe that this was that same woman she'd encountered years earlier.
"Celeste," The warrior spoke again, as gently as she had the first time, "the Xena who killed your family is dead. There is nothing I want to do more than help you stay alive."
Once again, the siren read the emotions on the warrior's face and recognized that her words were true. She might want to hate Xena for that day, and she might never find it in herself to forgive, but the truth was that Xena felt deeply remorseful for the sins of her past, and she would not allow harm to come to Celeste.
Well, here's Two! For those reading, I hope you enjoy it! Please R & R!