DISCLAIMER: Please refer back to "Step 1" for specific disclaimers

Feedback is always welcomed at <poorldl@earthlink.net>







"Come in the kitchen, father," Mallika said, opening the door and leading both her father and Lakme into the house, "You are not going to believe your eyes."

Lakme nodded in solemn agreement when Naderus glanced back at the barmaid. ‘These two could be so dramatic at times,’ the patient man thought, looking at both his daughter and her friend with much affection.

"This had better be good!" The man warned both the girls sternly. Good enough to warrant leaving a tavern full of customers without even a cook to keep an eye on things.

"The proof is in the pudding!" Mallika stated confidently, motioning with her arm for him to both enter and regard the kitchen table, expecting an unbelievably small warrior princess to be waiting for them to make a believer out of her father.

Staring back at them was a fat, happy Grumbles the cat, licking his chops and cleaning his paws after a very satisfying breakfast.

Mallika froze. Lakme gasped and threw her hands over her mouth. Grumbles purred and licked his whiskers, adding a very uncatlike burp.

"GRUMBLES! YOU DIDN’T!" Mallika yelled and grabbed the cat, shaking him in a panic. Grumbles hung from her hands, looking for all the world like the cat who just ate the canary.

"TELL ME YOU DID NOT EAT XENA FOR BREAKFAST!" Mallika cried, giving the fat cat another shake.

Lakme ran to the table and started poking around the remains of the food for any sign of the warrior princess. There was nothing left. Not even a crumb.

"Oh Puck! Gabrielle is going to kill us!" Lakme managed to squeak before covering her mouth with her hands in horror, appalled at the thought that Xena had possibility come to an untimely end at the hands (or more appropriately paws) of Grumbles the Housecat.

Mallika shook Grumbles again, angrily.

"All right you, out with her!"

The cat began to squirm at the indignity.


Mallika held the cat by the scruff of the neck and began to try to pry its mouth open with the fingers of her other hand. Grumbles would have none of it. He began to protest in earnest with an angry howl.

"Give her to me!" Lakme cried and grabbed at the cat, only to have Mallika pull him back.

The girls began to fight over the cat, pulling him back and forth between them. Grumbles flattened his ears and started to kick out with his hinds legs at whoever he could scratch first. Naderus was just about to step in when a tiny voice somehow cut its way through the commotion.

"It’s alright! I’m over here!"

Xena yelled, waving her arms and stepping out from the hole into the center of the kitchen floor.

At first, no one heard her so she cupped her hands to her mouth and yelled a little louder.

"I’m here! I’m here!"

The warrior waved her hands over her head and then had to dropped them quickly to intercept a sneeze.


The sneeze brought everyone’s attention to the floor, including Grumbles. The cat squirmed against Mallika’s firm grip, anxious for a chance at dessert.

"Thank the gods!" Mallika breathed and then clutched Grumbles to her chest just as the cat was about to escape from her grasp and lunge at the warrior. The cat mewed in protest and wiggled in her arms, but try as she might Grumbles could not escape. Mallika took her to the front door and promptly threw the cat out into the garden.

By the time Mallika returned to the kitchen, Lakme had gotten on her hands and knees and was helping the warrior princess into her palm.

"Are you alright, Xena?" Lakme asked, noticing the scratches on her arm.

"I’ll live," Xena grumbled.

"That looks like it hurts." Lakme said with an intake of breath and then she frowned with concern. The scratches were oozing a strange green fluid, as well as a little blood. The warrior did not appear to notice.

"I’ve had worse." Xena stated flatly, wiping the dust from her tunic. She pulled at the ragged top to ensure that all her body parts were properly covered. Mallika’s father was still staring at the warrior in total shock.

"I must admit, I’ve been chased and attacked in many ways: giants, cyclops, driads, bloodthirty bacchae......this is the first time I’ve almost been done in by someone’s pet!"

Xena smirked into the smiling eyes of Lakme as the barmaid carefully lifted her away from the ground.

Lakme brought Xena back to the kitchen table and allowed her to climb out of her palm.

"And don’t you dare say a word about this to Gabrielle." The warrior warned with a stern stare and a shake of her finger.

She hopped out of the barmaid’s hand and stood on the tabletop near a dish. Naderus was still staring at the warrior, eyes wide in disbelief.

"Not a word, I swear!" Lakme smiled. Xena winked

Mallika grabbed her father’s arm to get his attention away from Xena.

"Listen to us, father. It’s just as I told you. King Democritus and Paracelsus have been conducting experiments. They’re in league together on this. Xena was invited to dinner and drugged, then taken to a laboratory and turned into.....well, turned into this. We can only conclude that all of our missing friends and relatives met a similiar fate, only the results were probably not successful."

"Meaning what?" Naderus asked hesitantly, his eyes travelling back to stare at the warrior.

"Meaning that those poor people are probably dead." Xena said angrily.

Mallika took Lakme’s hand and looked at her sympathetically.

Naderus took a deep breath, deciding he had heard enough.

"I’ll get the council together. We’ll have to go to them with this story to get their support. And then we’ll think about approaching the king for an explanation."

"I would include the Captain of the Guards in that meeting if I were you." Xena suggested, rather wisely Naderus thought. He nodded in agreement.

"Good idea. You’ll have to be there, Xena. You’re the living proof."

"Fine by me. Now, where’s Gabrielle."

Lakme and Mallika looked at one another.

Xena did not like the way they were looking at one another at all.

"Where is Gabrielle?" she asked again sternly.

The father stepped up to the table.

"I’m sorry to tell you this, Xena. Gabrielle’s been taken to the palace, arrested by the guards."

Xena’s eyes sparkled with anger.

"Take me to the palace!" Xena hissed, barely able to contain her temper.

"What!" Mallika cried, "We can’t do that! We have to get help together first. Then we can go to the palace. Besides, what do you think you’re going to be able to do once you get there, tiny as you are?"

"How good is your word in this town?" Xena asked, facing Mallika’s father directly and ignoring Mallika's little remark. Even at this size, the warrior’s demeanor was intimidating.

"I’m respected well enough." Naderus responded, just a bit insulted.

"Then get a delegation together and bring them to the front gates."

"To do what?" The man asked.

"To cause a commotion. To bring attention to the problem. To give me time to get into the palace and get Gabrielle out of there. There’s no telling what that deranged Paracelsus is doing to her and I’M NOT GOING TO WAIT FOR THE PEOPLE IN THIS TOWN TO DECIDE TO ACT!"

Xena’s anger was making her eyes appear to blaze. Suddenly a dish lifted itself into the air and tumbled at an alarming rate across the room, shattering against the wall. The sudden explosion caused everyone to duck and cover, including the warrior who was just as surprised as everyone else.

They looked down at her in wonder.

"What else has Paracelsus done to you?" Lakme asked softly, after a moment of silence hung in the air.

"I’m... not.... sure," Xena stuttered, suddenly dizzy, "But it’s more than it appears and I think I’m running out of time."

The warrior wiped at a suddenly sweaty brow and looked up at her co-conspirators.

"Then we have no time to lose." Lakme said firmly. "We need to get you back to that laboratory.....somehow."

"We need to get to Chemeclees to see what he uncovered in Paracelsus’ notes." Mallika reminded them.

"We need to tell everyone what’s been going on." Naderus added.

"I need to get Gabrielle out of there." Xena said with finality, "Let’s get going."



Continued in Step 15


Return to The Bard's Corner