"Alice's Alternative"

by: Puckster
(copyright: November 1997)

Stern Warning: This story contains lots of explicit reference to lesbian sex. Please go away if this offends you. If you are under 18, this story wasn't written for you either.
CREEPY CRAWLY ALERT: If you are squeamish about bugs and snakes, you may want to skip this one.
Disclaimers: This is a fan fiction, which borrows the characters of Xena and Gabrielle from Universal/Renaissance without their permission, but with no intention of profit. Very little cultural material in this story was borrowed from real life or history, but some aspects of the environment of the story are quite real indeed. I suggest you read Cerberus' Challenge and Empathy's Cost prior. Thanks: to Sweetie for making me add that love scene. Enjoy!
Comments always welcome at: RWildergar@aol.com

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The fruminous Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought -
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
frabjous day! Calooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
by: Lewis Carroll


Deep within the earth there was a groaning that would not stop. Geophysicists listened to it impassively with their instruments, recording the painful sounds with out comprehension of their meaning. Late one night, when they grew tired of the endless moaning, and the lab's blinding white surfaces, and the scratchy radio music, they playfully sped up the audio tapes of the sounds from the earth below.

"Xena…" They imagined a whisper in the rasp and grind of continents moving. "I am afraid…"


But Xena knew nothing of the distant future, she was focused exclusively on the next few days. She whistled tunelessly as Gabrielle trotted along beside her on the ancient road, and pummeled her with question after question.

Gabrielle was trying to learn their current destination, while also impressing upon the warrior the importance of privacy for their upcoming six-moons anniversary.

But Xena kept her secret to herself, and as they approached the last town before crossing into Amazon lands. She instructed Gabrielle to quickly purchase supplies for some good cooked meals, dumped some coins into her hand, and left.

With great suspicion, Gabrielle watched the warrior blend into the crowded street with narrowed eyes. She knew that Xena was up to something, but she had a handful of dinars and she was in a marketplace. At the very first vendor she found some aged and spiced mutton, at the moment of perfect tenderness. She bargained hard for the delicacy, still wondering why Xena brought them back to Amazonia, and what it had to do with the romantic vacation she was hoping for…

Suddenly, Xena came flying over the heads of the passersby.

"Uh oh." Gabrielle muttered to the shop keeper. "Trouble."

Xena grabbed Gabrielle by the arm and yanked her into motion. "We've got to go, NOW!!!…"




Chapter I

Asleep in a bed still deeply shrouded by morning's shadows, she curled tightly into a pillow, the sheets clinging softly to her willowy form. Nearly white against the soft pillowcase, her short ash-blond hair stood up in sleepy spikes. She might have been an angel, sleeping on a rain cloud. But Alice had fallen.

Her lips, full in sleep, blurted out half-spoken warnings and pleas. Relaxed, her hands were elegant and fine, but the dream knotted them into white knuckled fists. Suddenly, her whole body bucked, and she lashed out, punching at the wall behind the bed.

The metal headboard was new, one of her own creations. It was a large sheet of galvanized roofing tin, tightly screwed to a wood frame, which was tightly screwed to the wall. It was perfect for the "Slate and Steel" look she was developing in her bedroom. It also became a remarkably loud percussion instrument, when banged sharply with a bony fist.

"NO!" The frantic note in her voice joined with the booming noise. The sound seemed to resonate through her mind as she sat bolt upright and caught her breath, the knuckles of her hand throbbing.

Gradually, Alice remembered who she was and, reluctantly, whom she had lost. Long after the noise of her awakening had finally subsided, she was staring numbly at the empty bed beside her, wondering how much redecoration it would take to drown out the echoes of her lost lover.

The clock radio screamed awake, shattering the morning again. "…thunderstorms throughout the day… next weather in ten minutes…..It's the MORNING ZOO !!!!!!!!!!!! Wakey wakey, hands off snaky!!!! There's a big snarl on the interstate waiting for you this morning! Truck full of chicken parts fell over and its REALLY SMELLY!!!! Lets take the next caller…the topic is infidelity…you are on the air with Bob…"

Alice reached over, slapped the snooze alarm, and in the same motion had the cordless phone up to her ear, speed dialing the radio station.

"Hello. Z104, how may I direct your call?"

"To the Director of Customer Service!"

"Good morning, Alice, up early today?"

"That's not the appropriate procedure for addressing a consumer! I know what the manual says, I wrote it!"

From the other end of the line, a sigh escaped. "Alice, for God's sake-"

"There is a reason for the rules, they prevent sexism in the workplace."

"Alice, you aren't the station's attorney anymore! When most people quit their jobs, they sleep in more, or look for new jobs. Why don't you do that, instead of calling us every day?"

Alice settled into the relentless energy that would carry her through the day. Her jaw set and her beautiful features flattened until they became expressionless. "Please let me speak with Paul. You are required to carry out this request immediately, according to policy."

Without any further conversation, her call was transferred into the voicemail system.

"Hi," a tired male voice intoned, "This is Paul Larson, managing director of customer service. Your call is important to me, so please - " she hit the code to bypass his message, and started speaking.

"Paul, this is Alice Vanders. Bob is making references to male genitalia again on the morning show. This is my second complaint, and I assure you I will follow this up with a letter because I'm afraid this is another clear example of the station's sexist practices." She disconnected with a satisfied nod. Through her mind an image flashed, of Xena: Warrior Princess, armed with a phone in her fist.

Reaching up, she yanked on a length of chain attached to another one of her creations. Way up inside a small aluminum garbage can that hung from the ceiling above the bed, a 100-watt light bulb blazed. It's light pierced through the jagged holes she had punched through the can with a tire iron, at her anger-management workshop, just prior to the abrupt end of her relationship. Illuminated, the room was somehow colder.

Alice sat on the edge of her bed a moment longer, observing the final touches on her newly decorated bedroom, trying to take comfort in the effect of the chain link fencing strung along the wall opposite the bed, fence posts trimming the corners. …The perfect expression of my personal boundaries… She glanced at the new, exquisitely expensive "brushed-chrome" side table. Stroking the smooth surface, she noticed her hand had a small scrape from it's encounter with the headboard.

She stood up slowly, her long body unfurled to it's full height of six feet, and walked to her bathroom, freshly tiled in natural slate. As she relieved herself, she peeled off strips of wallpaper, glaring at the colorful print that whispered of happier days. Before getting into the shower stall, she donned a latex glove, to protect her wound, then showered meticulously. After, at the sink, she stripped off the glove and washed her hands thoroughly with medicinal soap. With Q-tips, she carefully cleaned her little wound with hydrogen peroxide from a sterile nose dropper. Daintily, she dabbed on a tiny blob of Neosporin, and finally attached a sturdy band-aid, with antibiotic ointment "built right into the bandage".

Before she left the bathroom, Alice did not pause to admire her body, which was admirable indeed, but instead pinned on a Jewish Yarmulka and posed sideways to see how it looked on her head.

Then, clothed in only her yarmulka, she walked into the kitchen, and filled a gleaming stainless steel kettle to boil. Grinding ½ cup of fresh coffee beans, she tapped the little appliance expertly on the counter to settle the powder, and then measured it carefully by spoonful into a chrome and glass french press. Finally, she popped a bagel into the new toaster oven, just out of the box from Sears, and went into the living room to curl herself tightly into the corner of a stiff new couch upholstered in "twilight charcoal". Leaning over, her breasts heavy and pouting for lack of an appreciative audience, she pressed the button of her answering machine.

A woman's voice pealed scratchily from the speaker. "Alice, this is Randy. I'm calling because you volunteered to support Jenny in her recovery from the chemo, and of course you are signed up for tomorrow. Try to get there by eleven, and she really needs someone to feed the animals, straighten up a little, and make her a nice lunch. Please give me a call if you won't be able to make it over."

Her white eyebrows pinched faintly on her forehead as she took the phone up, dialed another number and listened to it ring patiently.

"Hello?" A sleepy voice answered.

"Jennifer? This is Alice Vanders."

"Oh.. hello, " the voice at the other end said weakly.

Alice got right down to business, sitting up straight on the couch.
"I'm calling about coming over today."

"Oh, well…could you call back a little later? It's early…"

"Well, no." Alice tried to make her voice soften. "I'm afraid I won't have time."

"To come over?" The voice on the other end was sounding more alert.

"I meant to call back." Alice's voice rose in volume, and she spoke each word clearly. "I-won't-have-time-to-call-back."

"All right," the volume of the other woman's voice raised to match Alice's "You know, I've got breast cancer . There's nothing wrong with my hearing…"

"I know that!" Alice's laughter sounded like falling gravel. "I know you have breast cancer!"

The voice on the other end was quiet.

Alice stepped boldly into the pause. "Well, actually, I was going to tell you I haven't had a minute to spare…this is my first day home since the contractors left…by the way, you should see the slate floor in the bathroom… and you know I have decided to pursue a lawsuit against the radio station for discrimination… and I suppose you know that Margaret's left."

"Mmm, hmm."

"And I have to study for Hebrew class on top of everything else..."

"Hebrew class… I thought you were studying Spanish… to help the farm workers..." Jenny's voice paused, as if checking itself. "I can't believe you are telling me all this, Alice." Jenny's voice sounded almost entertained. "Next time, would you mind telling it to Randy?"

Alice misunderstood Jenny's remark. "I don't feel I know Randy well enough to tell her about this, it's a very personal thing. I've made a deep personal commitment to rediscover my Jewish roots."

"You have Jewish roots?" The other woman's voice sounded a little hysterical.

Alice was not sure how to interpret Jenny's tone. "Not any Jewish roots directly. Actually not at all, but I'm going to a synagogue of exclusively lesbian Jews, and I'm going to study before I am officially Jewish. I'm wearing a Yarmulka, now. In mainstream that is reserved for only the males. You should see the looks I get!"

"How defiant," the voice said dryly. "Last time wasn't it the Islamic lesbians…"

"Sufis. But that part of my life that is now behind me. Becoming Jewish is a very personal decision, and it's very important to me that people respect it." Alice's tone held a note of warning.

There was a muffled sound that caused Alice to listen harder, then, "I'm sure you'll get all the respect you deserve for the decisions you make, Alice. Are you coming over today?"

"I'm afraid not." Alice tone sharpened. She was sure that Jenny was mocking her. "Hebrew class is too important. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

The voice was plainly annoyed. "You can let me go back to bed. It's 7:30 in the morning. Do you mind?"

Already coiled, Alice responded like a snake striking. "You know, I've been under a lot of stress lately, and I think I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances and maybe I was wrong…" Her words slashed through the phone. "But I just thought you ought to be able to handle one day on your own by now..."

She found herself speaking to a dial tone. Shrugging, with the eraser tip of a pencil from a chrome cup by the phone, she jabbed at the winking eye of the answering machine again.

Her not-quite languid composure tightened further as a deep female voice husked through the speaker. "Alice, this is Maggie. I've tried calling every evening this week and haven't caught you at home. " The corners of her tense lips moved spastically. "I need to pick up some of my stuff in the garage. I know you aren't working, so I'd like to come by tomorrow morning and load it up. I've arranged for a truck and I will be there at about 9:00am. Please just leave the garage door unlocked if you don't feel you can be there when I arrive."

"Oh, no you don't!" Muttering, she turned off the machine and speed-dialed a new number, getting another answering machine. "Margaret?" She said rapidly, "This is Alice. Please don't come over today, it is a very inconvenient time for me." She hung up fast, her heart racing and her face so pale she was nearly blue.

The kettle whistled urgently. She stood up, wrapping herself in the couch throw, which was gray, and went back into the kitchen. Carefully protecting her hand with a towel, she poured the boiling water into the french press. As she waited exactly two minutes for the coffee to steep, she pulled off refrigerator magnets one by one, each from Margaret's magnet collection, and dropped them into a ziplock bag. She zipped the baggy up bitterly and dropped it on the counter.

Then, her cup of coffee steaming in her hand, she walked over to her computer and turned it on. Alice allowed herself a small smile in anticipation, a smile that she never saw herself, reflected in the monitor glass. She had just posted her third Xena: Warrior Princess alternative fan fiction story on the Internet, and she was very excited. No one had been interested in posting it for her, so she had learned how to build her own home page, "Alice's Alternative Amazons", and she had posted her stories there. In all her stories, Xena bore resemblance to the spiritual hobbies of choice in her own life: Xena as a Sufi, a Taoist, a Wiccan. Her hand shook on the mouse as she tapped in her access code and waited for the braying of the modem.

"You've got mail!" the cheerful voice announced over the computer's speakers, and she clapped her hands together in triumph, her smile broad and bright. There were two messages. "Well, it's a start!" she murmured, clicking on the first one.

It read: "I just found your home page and your XWP story, and have a few questions if you don't mind? I support creative thinking and I love Uber-stories, but I had a hard time following your concept. Could you please explain why you decided to portray Xena as a Rabbi? And how do you see her evolving into that, from her original warrior princess character? And if this is an alternative story, why isn't Gabrielle, mentioned anywhere?" The mail was signed: "Confused". She grimaced at the little smiley face that had been added next to the signature.

Angrily, she tapped out her response. "You obviously are not confused at all, but are rather a narrow-thinking and possibly bigoted individual. By "Alternative" I mean in the broader sense, in it's ORIGINAL contemporary meaning as a reference to Cultural Diversity. Obviously, you are intolerant of diversity, which I am sure is why you choose to police the Internet. Please do not return to my home page again." She sent the mail with a slap to the mouse, and tried to breathe deeply to calm down her anger, as she had learned in her anger-management workshop. Most times she just ended up hyperventilating.

The second message was just junk mail. Its header read: "Psychic Buddies Online" and there was a link that said: CLICK ME. She had clicked on it many times before, and read a free "personalized message".

But, Alice had lost all interest in what she was doing on the Internet. She exited out of everything, right down to the vaguely forlorn male "Goodbye!" that always surprised her when she signed off.

A short time later, with her mind on the many things of importance to her, Alice stood fully dressed, in her Slate-and-Steel bedroom, ready for her challenging day. She was immaculately dressed in what she thought of as "conservative urban lesbian": Neatly pressed jeans, a white silk shirt buttoned at the wrists and neck, a gray vest with a vague decorative pattern, and black penny loafers, no pennies. Her ash-blond hair, swept back close to her scalp, was capped by the Yarmulka and offered only faintest trace of color to her appearance. Her pale white skin completed the total, numbing effect.

The hidden jewels of Alice's face were actually her eyes, a clear hazel, which had a way of taking on the colors around her. But at that moment, her eyes were gray, in her Slate and Steel bedroom.

She practically marched over to the phone and speed-dialed. "Margaret, I haven't heard back from you, so I can only assume that you will be here shortly with you truck. I can't begin to explain how inconvenient this is for me, but I will unlock the door for you if you insist on coming over."

She signed onto the Internet one more time before she left, and got an Instant Message from the Psychic Buddies as the screen came up. It said, as before, "Tired of all the hassle? Let your personal psychic clear things up for you!" The CLICK ME! icon blinked and seemed almost angry she hadn't responded yet.

Her fingers flew, tapping out the reply: "Who are you? Please do NOT IM me!" She sent the message and waited. But nothing came. She tried again but waited in vain before she turned off the computer in anger and disgust. The Internet was quickly becoming a disappointment to Alice.

Snatching up the baggie full of magnets and her car keys, she walked into the garage through the side door in the kitchen, heels clicking smartly on the linoleum. Once inside, Alice stopped and sighed heavily, looking around the big room, filled with the clutter of her years with Margaret. It was a horrible mess, Margaret's things piled high near one end, where Alice had stacked them as she sanitized the house of her ex-lover's presence. The other end contained an aging collection of Alice's portraits of Margaret. Cement, chicken wire, and construction re-bar had been her medium then. In the dim light of one bulb, the stony figures seemed to rise up accusingly, their shadows casting a ghostly crowd of menacing Margarets up against the open framing of the garage wall.

Stepping gingerly around a looming pile of her ex-lover's camping equipment, Alice leaned over and reached in to unlock the garage's big door, innocent of the destiny that stalked her orderly world…


…The world in the age of Alice, was divided into vast and separate realms of wealth and poverty, though true knowledge and wisdom did not always take sides behind these same borders. At the pinnacle of the world's power, a guilty few lived in a constant state of change and evolution, holed up like bandits inside their lavishly guarded fortress nations.

In those lofty realms of power and opulence, where change was constant and relentless, where the price of power was often sanity, people everywhere rushed on with their daily business, with no true awareness of the world they lived in. Only a few suspected the truth, that their wealth had purchased a fatal blindness within their collective soul, obscuring the truth of their own corruption. There was a blindness to the Trolls that still lurked beneath the highway bridges, preying on the homeless in the echoing dark, high above the busy pavement. A blindness to the minor Demons, haunting the streets with cars and guns, or to the vampiric beings rising into positions of leadership within their governments and religious institutions...

And most definitely, a blindness to the continued presence of the ancient Greek Gods, still rattling around the planet, searching out worshippers to give themselves substance and power...

Soaring high overhead, one particular Olympian observed the tidy streets, square plots of grass, the crystal blue backyard pools, and found this city to be the perfect location for a tantalizing experiment. Alighting atop the tallest building, she stood beside a cellular antenna and looked out over her mammoth laboratory with a sneer. If her plan worked, she would leach power from the effects of seemingly random snafus on this orderly nation; the ire when a phone call didn't go through, the frustration when a stoplight went out, the anger when a PIN number was inexplicably rejected, the rage when a car broke down in the exit of a busy parking structure…The snarls of frustration and the howls of protest would all be transformed into prayers and offerings to Her…down to the quiet despair of a hungry family waiting for a late food-stamp check. She flexed her muscled shoulders and in her eyes a demonic power flickered as she thought of the legions of new worshippers massing at Her feet...

To make the formula work, it all had to begin with one person, one specially prepared person with the legendary catalyst talent, the trigger of change. Someone who personified the character of the city itself… who thought of herself as enlightened, but who was as fragile and corrupt as the city truly had become. She spotted her champion, driving on the expressway, and gloated. She had ensnared this one, an untried catalyst, on the Internet, drawn to the homepage title "Alice's Alternative Amazons", her obsession with the ancient Amazons still ruling her decisions. For weeks, she had trained Alice for a single moment of mindlessness that would trigger the chaotic wave. Alice had responded well to her early conditioning. Unknowingly she had begun to worship the goddess, sacrificing her job and her love to Velasca. Alice's catalytic talent was substantial, and as she sacrificed, so did the city. An important school levy that had broad voter support failed the day Alice quite her job, and at the moment Margaret stormed out of their home forever, a transformer blew at a power station and blackening out half the city's suburbs. Only Velasca grew more powerful with each system's failure and every technical breakdown.

Through the windshield, the goddess observed white knuckles gripping the steering wheel of a silver Volvo, swerving in and out of traffic, cutting off other drivers. The bumper of the car was crowded with little stickers, a black triangle, a Star of David, and couple of little signs like :"I'd rather be Sufi Dancing." Alice honked noisily at an elderly couple trying to merge onto the expressway. The goddess' eyes narrowed down to milky slits, as she read another sticker's motto: "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty."

Her smile twisted as it stretched across her teeth, then she bite it off and ate it, her immortal face settling down into it's characteristic grit and clench. She shrugged, her very emotions fickle and changing. Her great "experiment" was just a formality, really. In their effort to design a perfectly ordered society, these people had actually built a massive temple to Her… Slowly, she raised her chin high, her eyes white and blazing with a preternatural glow… Soon enough, this city would begin to unravel, the way sacred smoke rises from incense in a tight plume, then breaks apart with a random puff of air…

…But, even the destruction of a city was just something to keep her busy while she waited for a greater aim. With infernal slowness, her greatest battle was being won. She looked up with her divine vision and saw the thinning of the fragile atmosphere, and smiled. That was a project to be proud of… the devolution of a planet!

This time, she knew, nothing could stand in her way. Ultimately, she would win, and the destruction of a planet would give her power to rise above them all! She shook her fists, power coursing through her body, as a traffic jam began to thicken the rush hour traffic. Alice's temper had triggered another chaotic event.

Before she left the rooftop, Velasca saw to that the hundreds of calls flashing through the cellular antennae were routed to the personal phone of Rob Tapert, Producer of the Xena: Warrior Princess. It was another creative twist she was proud of, but a puny punishment next to what she had planned for the abominable television show and it's hauntingly familiar actresses… she shivered, memories of lava tingling her skin painfully…


Chapter II

Down in a shadier realm of slower change and fewer riches, down in the steaming green rain forests of the southern continent, there still lived those who had found a straighter road to the mystic truths, simply by virtue of having more time to wonder, and less need to know. In this place, things had not changed for a very, very long time, and the collective soul could see very sharply indeed. There, perhaps people understood only too well the troublesome truths of magic, and irksome goddesses.

To the precaristas, the stakeholders that lived in villages near the roads, they were known as Los Adentros, The Insiders. They lived deep inside the forest that grew on the back of the turtle of the world. They were protected by the she-serpent, the mother goddess incarnate that kept them safe under their green canopy, protecting her young from the Outside.

In this seemingly endless, echoing green cathedral they lived, moving from camp to camp, never less than three days walk from the uttermost end of the last tributary big enough to float a canoe. But the Outside grew closer, led by an army of metal dragons ridden by men that bit the earth and chewed the trees. The dragons bit and chewed, bit and chewed…night and day, nibbling away on the very shell of the great turtle. Behind them they left a vast wound in the earth, and when the rains came to quench her agony, the earth bled in red rivers. Most terrifying were the small settlements of bands like their own, others of their kind relocated and left Outside to die in shacks made of the torn trees. They had lost the protection of the she-serpent, and like the bleeding earth or the splintered trees, they died quickly.

For these reasons, this last free band of people sunk deeper and deeper Inside, looking for a hidden place to wait out the rainy season. They were lead by the venerable Tla'a, a sorceress who was related in some fashion to most of the forty two people in the band. Only she, the most powerful sorceress their people had ever known, could bring their offerings to a she-serpent, and lead them by secret paths to the hidden sanctuaries of their goddess. Perhaps not since the builders of the great stone temples, had such a one as Tla'a been born. But even she could not stop the dragons, or the scattering of the clans.

Wise old Tla'a had led those who remained on a long journey Inside, led them to a most sacred place, the location of her ritual rebirth into the knowledge of the she-serpent. It was an old ruin of a temple of the ancestors, to the serpent goddess. A massive stone roof sprawled over a wide stone floor, supported by thick, square pillars carved in swirling frescos. Here, in a basin deep within the temple, a divine spring rose up and offered them clean water, rich with blessings and charms. Roots and palms were abundant, and all could see the gathering would last several moons. The hunters smiled and chattered softly when they heard the sounds of a promising hunt: the squeal of a peccary echoing back faintly through the trees. A man and a woman, who happened to be the best hunters, left immediately, and were soon back with a fine pair, strung up on a pole between them.

By sundown, which happened very quickly Inside, the people of the clan were safe in the old temple, among the strong and magical stones. Over all the temple grew a green blanket of the forest, hiding the ruin from view above. The cold stone frightened some of the people, who wanted to sleep up in the trees or on the ground outside, but they listened to Tla'a and made their home within the temple's shelter. They swept and cleared, spread out into family groups on the wide floor, and hung their hammocks from thick vines that grew along the ceiling.

Squatting on a mat that had been laid out for her, Tla'a looked sharply around for the sign she needed to proceed. The wavering light of their fires warmed the old stone a little, etching shadows into the carvings there, making them jump and move. Tla'a's eyes gleamed with delight, as an ancient mural came to seemingly to life with a familiar scene of an ancestor making root mash. In the wobbly play of her own people's shadows against the wall, she saw a pestle rise and fall, pulping a root for a quick warm supper. For a moment, the two images seemed to blur into one another, and Tla'a was satisfied. She got up from her squat, with the help of one of her great nephews.

Tla'a had another reason for coming here, she needed urgently to speak with the goddess. She knew her people would be safe here, hidden from the dragons that now flew over nearly every day, before the afternoon rains. Toward the back of the cavern, she lit a bundle of straw and peered into the dark entrance of a narrow, round passage down into the earth. Here was the entrance of the true temple, where only she of all her people went. Deep into this narrow crack, she squirmed head first, her callused feet disappearing last, and watched by many pairs of concerned, jet black eyes.

After a long wiggle, she found a little cup of space where she could get up onto her knees and almost crawl down headfirst. Roots from the forest above caressed her bare back and whispered of high green places above, as she made her way carefully down the long tunnel, holding out the burning straw with one hand. As she went, Tla'a knew she would die soon, but dying was the least of things she was prepared to do for her people, or her goddess.

Finally, in an earthen den just big enough for the old woman to stand up in, she squatted. Before her was an altar, shrouded in cobwebs. With a reverent hands, she swept it clean, revealing a simple carving of a snake, so ancient that the story of it's placement had been lost. Tla'a smiled, touching the jade snake that hung from a cord about her neck, as she thought of her people gathered at the entrance to the burrow above. They thought that Tla'a went to meet the she-serpent in this place, but Tla'a knew a strange secret, as the burning straw guttered out, and she prepared to die. The goddess was far more than a serpent…

In the complete darkness, she began to chant softly, moaning the Goddess' name in time to her own heartbeats… "… Ga ah ah ea!… Ea ea ea!… Ga ah ea!" she rocked and chanted, the beats of the ancient incantation measuring out what was left of her life. It wasn't long before she heard the whispering approach of the she-serpent, the goddess' emissary.


Chapter III

In a dank root cellar beneath an anonymous wooden house, Gabrielle was unable to sit quietly another instant, and decided to pick a fight instead. She shook her manacled wrists at Xena, accusingly. "This is not my idea of a romantic getaway! I wish you would have taken our Six-Moons anniversary a little more seriously, Xena!" Grabbing a fistful of the moldy hay she was seated on, she tried to throw it in the general direction of Xena. But the gesture backfired, as her wrists were fastened to an iron ring in the floor, by a chain that just wasn't long enough. And so she showered herself with bits of straw and mildew dust, that drifted down around her face and settling onto her shoulders. "Great! Filthy again!" She pitched her voice in a dramatic monotone that was completely spoiled by an indelicate sneeze.

Up against the wall across the dim room, the warrior scowled down at the bard, but she was in no position to threaten anyone. "Well… sorry, your Amazon Majesty." Her teeth bared, and her deep voice dripped with sarcasm. "And here I planned every detail, right down to this cursed root cellar!"

She groused unintelligibly and thought of her plan gone sour, the amazon's lover's hut reserved just for them… by the beautiful garden… empty and waiting just for them… Xena yanked again at her own chains, her dark hair tossing wildly. Her hardware was quality stuff, carefully oiled and cleaned, and the chain secured to her wrists had been looped around a heavy beam in the ceiling by someone that knew exactly how to tie up a reluctant warrior. With a growl of frustration, she decided to vent on the bard, since she was such a willing target. "Nothing but the best for you and me, hey?" She jabbed in Gabrielle's direction with her foot, which was also chained to an iron ring in the floor. "And whose fault is it that we are in here, anyway?" she glaring dangerously, as her body swung back to bump against the wall.

"Well, definitely not mine, Xena!" Gabrielle sneezed like a Titan, her nose still reacting to the mold. "I was only getting supplies!" she sputtered, "You're the one that just had to have a mug of port!" She sneezed again, messily, and then just stared stupidly at Xena as if surprised to find her there.

"A mug of port was it?" Shifting her weight and using the raw strength of her arms, Xena tried to saw the chain back and forth across the beam. The effort was magnificent but ineffective, and Gabrielle almost missed the whole thing because she was trying to wipe her nose on the hem of her kilt.

Xena let go and relaxed back into her chains with a frustrated grunt, and tried to wiggle her wrists out of the cuffs. Focusing again on Gabrielle, she picked up the dangling thread of their argument, just to help pass the time. Tilting her head sideways, she sneered. "And what about yourself, your Royal Innocence? You just had to hold out for the extra dinar off the price of mutton!" She tried to get her arms up around the beam, but the leg chains were too short. Then she brought up her knees as far as they would go, and tried to pull the leg chains free from the ring in the floor, grunted and went limp again. Her words came out in an explosion of breath, her face red from her effort to win free. "We could have gotten away from them! I told you they would come looking for us, but nooo…" her shook emphatically, "you had to get the best deal... and the mutton was too far gone to eat anyway…" she spit on the floor.

Gabrielle, though sneezy, was ready for a piece of Xena. "It wasn't too far gone, it was aged to taste! And it was you who couldn't pass up a chance to stroll into a tavern and play Who's The Boss with a bunch of men you've never seen before…" She held up both hands so she could shake her finger at the warrior. "…And who naturally turned out to be slavers! Nya-aah!!" the finger waggled side to side. "And don't try to tell me a fight isn't just what you were picking, because I know it was!" Gabrielle shook her head dramatically, barely hiding her smile, already looking forward to making up …once Xena gets us out of here, that is… "Well, it looks like you've got a fight now!" She gestured wildly around her, scattering more mold dust and straw. She tried to fold her arms in front of her, but the chains prevented the defiant gesture. So the bard just pulled straw out of her threadbare halter and stared at the fighter, eyebrows raised provocatively, waiting for Xena's next move and hoping she wouldn't sneeze.

What didn't show was Gabrielle's rising awareness that something about Xena hanging from the rafters in chains was making her feel very naughty. She tried valiantly to hide her next sneeze, and failed spectacularly. "Did id aw your fauld!" she sputtered accusingly to Xena, the back of her hand across her mouth.

Xena's feet were marching over to Gabrielle before they remembered they were suspended, just above the floor. "My fault? My fault! Ach! Gabrielle! I swear if I wasn't chained up I'd - "

"Bud you are chayd ub!" Gabrielle's face suddenly contorted, and she sneezed so many times Xena lost count. "Das duh whole poind!"

There was a small sound overhead and the warrior's head came up abruptly, the argument forgotten, as the door above slammed open and several pairs of heavy boots pounded down the rickety wooden stairs. The men carried lanterns, and she blinked in the brighter light.

Rough and dirty, a hand grabbed Xena's face and wrenched it around. "Yep, that's her. The Warrior Princess. Coulda told from just her weapons, but a man don't forget a face like that." The man turned to his friends with a suggestive smile. "What'ya goin' to do with her? You givin' anybody a shot at her?"

An especially scruffy man stepped forward, looking at the men around him for support. "No! We kill her!" His voice whined almost comically, due to the unfortunate condition of his nose, which had obviously been broken far too many times. "We got to kill her! She's the Warrior Princess, she'd hunt us down if she got away, and then she'd flay us, just like those guys in Corinth..."

"Xena! Did you-" Gabrielle started.

Wide-eyed, Xena had shot her a look that said "Not a word!" and looked back to the discussion.

"…or she'd draw and quarter us, like they told us about in the next valley, or impale us on pointed stakes, like those poor sods at -"

"Will you just shut up with the flashbacks?" One with the stance of a trained fighter barked with some authority.

Xena breathed a silent agreement with that. She tried to jump into the conversation, just like one of the boys. "Hey, guys. Do me a favor and let me down, I gotta take a leak."

The fighter didn't even hesitate before he punched Xena solidly in the face with his armored fist. "You are either a slave or dead, either way, you have no voice."

Xena brought her face up, a small cut bleeding from her cheek, and looked at the other fighter with a banal expression of complete boredom.

"What about the little one?" another asked hopefully, staring at Gabrielle, "can we keep her around awhile before we sell her?" His hand lingered near his crotch.

Xena snarled slightly, covering it up with a small cough, and keeping Gabrielle quiet with the sheer ferocity of her eyes. Her tongue checked the inside of her mouth for cuts.

The fighter spoke again, clearly the leader of the band. "We can keep the little one around tonight, but tomorrow she's got to go on the block, before she's all used up! She can write, and fetch a good price. But we never should have taken her!" He jerked his head toward the dangling warrior, "Even at a gladiator's price she's no bargain if we all end up dead!"

"Or worse," whined the scruffy one with the bad nose, "I heard once she cut a guy's thing off, roasted it, and served it up with a side of -" His story was cut short as the leader's fist found his face, slamming him against a wall where he slid down limply.

"One," Xena whispered, "and three."

"Gods blast you, Datis!" growled a hulking giant of a man in the back of the little group, "I'm not carrying him around for you this time!"

"What about the girl? I get first dibs on her!" The man with his hand in his crotch stepped forward, clearly ready to make quick work of Gabrielle. "I didn't get any in the last raid because I had to watch the supplies!"

"No way!" The giant's face thrust forward. I'm the one that got the little one, I get first dibs!"

"You'll just wreck her, like you did the last one! She wasn't any good after you got done with her! Right, Datis?" With the giant's attention diverted, the man's hands went from his crotch to his knife, and he lunged at the giant with the blade held low.

The two of them scuffled, but were yanked apart by the leader. "I'll have her first, do you hear?" Datis banged their heads together with a solid crack and released them. Their heads didn't look much worse for the banging and they may have even been used to it, because both men started arguing with Datis as soon as they were out of reach. They sounded like schoolyard boys, fighting over their toy chariots.

Xena figured she needed to get something going, and that the men were just stupid and horny enough to try a favorite trick, a good old-fashioned seduction. As she turned her head to look at Gabrielle, she caught the younger woman's eyes traveling up her body and lingering in the chains above her head. She smiled wolfishly, wrapping her fingers around the oily links, and her quick mind around a plan.

Then, her grin drifted to a more thoughtful expression, as she considered the impact her tactics might have on her lover. The truth be told, of late Xena had not been as interested in the old, more exotic sexual diversions. Six moons ago in Gaea's sacred baptismal, she had come to Gabrielle, her heart empty and open, and the bard's love had filled her. Again and again, the warrior's deepest thirst had been finally satiated. For the first time since her most distant childhood, Xena had hope, love, and even fleeting moments of peace… present circumstances excluded. But her indecision stiffened into resolve when she realized she didn't have time to be picky about a plan.

As the men's argument settled down and the leader turned his gaze onto her lover, Xena shivered, thrilled as she imagined the choices Gabrielle might soon make, and the consequences of her gamble failing… A slow, crooked grin spread across her face.

As she focused herself into the narrow beam of her purpose, the battle lust kindled in Xena's body. In her eyes it seemed blue earth-fire shot into the unsuspecting bard, whose brows jumped high in surprise. Hanging from the beam, the dark beauty made her lithe body bow and twist. With her gaze hooded, she brought a knee up coyly, as far as her short chains would allow, and gently rocked her hips. She swayed, and the small motions caused gentle clinks to sound musically from her chains. The bickering men's voices fell into silence.

Xena rubbed her cheek softly against her shoulder, the tip of her thick tongue moved all around the circle of her mouth, her white teeth taking a small fold of her shoulder's flesh and holding it there. Innocently, she raised her brows and released the bite, letting it drag her lip down. Slowly, she glanced sideways at Gabrielle, and nearly lost her composure.

The bard was blushing, but she was also obviously trying not to laugh …this won't do!…The warrior flashed a glare of warning, and the bard's wiggly face stilled, though the green eyes danced with suppressed mirth.

Into the silence, she spoke, her tone matching her current disposition: low and sultry, "What's your rush? Why have one, when you can have both of us…together?" Her pelvis rolled. "Why don't you take her out of those chains so she can touch me? Then you can have her… after you've watched…"

They gaped as Xena arched so her lean mound parted the leather straps.

Green eyes swung from the creaking beam with Xena, as her gaze shifted back to the bard. "She's never touched me before… but she wants to." As she spoke, her eyes commanded. "You want to touch me, don't you Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle just stared back at her warrior, who obviously had decided to fight dirty tonight. But she thought she knew how to get the key if she could get herself loose…tentatively at first, following the warrior's lead, she ran her hands up the insides of her thighs, the cold links dragging across her skin, pulling back the kilt just slightly, in what was for her a brazen display of her private passion for Xena. She looked up at Xena for approval…and got a dark scowl, before the raven hair was tossed dramatically back, to good effect …she wants more…!

Gabrielle pondered her choices and decided to give Xena's idea a try. She thrust her tummy out and simpered. Coyly, she piled up her hair in a tangled mess, then tilting her head to the side, she let it tumble down over her face, where it got caught in her teeth.

Watching Gabrielle detach the hair from her mouth, Xena rolled her eyes and decided she had to get the bard more involved with the game. Breathing quietly in short bursts, she clenched her belly and arched her pelvis, forcing the blood to rush into her womb. The old erotic exercise was like striking a flint to the tinder between her legs. Her eyes became two dark, liquid pools and the gaze she fixed on the men was, possibly the most lethal thing they had ever seen.

"Gabrielle…" her throbbing voice arched across the room into the empathic woman, almost vibrating in her sex. "Gabrielle, please…" Xena saw the spell settle over her lover, the near trance that the young woman slipped into, and the she shivered in her chains, knowing it was the sound of her own voice that summoned this power.

Gabrielle could not forget the terrible danger, but she also would not deny her warrior when she called her name like that. It caused an ache in her heart that made her chest tighten. And so, just for Xena, she projected the sensation of her arousal across the room, caressed her lover with mystic fingers, returning love for love's sake. Her emerald gaze deepened and burned as she regarded her warrior…almost forgetting their audience, but not quite.

"Yes…" The bard said, almost too soft to be heard. "I do want to touch her …please" She turned to the men, pleading, "…please…" She meant every intent, if not every word, but as she watched Xena squirm beneath her secret touch, it came to the bard that she was feeling adventurous. Her face became conspiratorial, and her attention was for only her excited lover.

Though her wrists and ankles were in manacles, the heart of the warrior soared free.

Gaping, staring, and twitching, the three men's faces were a study of stupefaction, their heads moving back and forth between the women, devouring the spectacle. As one, they pushed Datis and his key toward Gabrielle.

"Wait!" To Xena's surprise and pleasure, they stopped and stared at her, as if awaiting further instructions. "Just unlock her and stand back!" She jerked her head back to the wall. "That is the only price for the show!" They all stared a moment longer, just enough for Xena's tongue to make one more round of her lips. Moments later Gabrielle's hardware was being unlocked and she was being sternly warned not to try anything 'smart'. Then the men backed against the wall expectantly, eyes wide, silly grins on their stupid faces.

Gabrielle wasted no time at all shaking off her chains, so she could return her gaze to Xena's. Xena looked at her steadily and very slowly, she nodded.

As she walked blissfully by the men, Gabrielle smiled suggestively and tugged a scarf free from Datis' neck, while with the other hand she liberated the keys. Flirting, she trailed the scarf across Datis' face and then deftly hid the keys in the folds. Then she placed herself before the warrior and stared up at her impassively, but for the green sparks that crackled and flashed in her eyes.

"Got the key." She breathed. The sudden nearness to Xena was heady stuff for Gabrielle, whose flushed face was nearly level with the warrior's lush bosom. She smiled softly as she reached up and grasped the lowest loop of Xena's breastplate with the hand that held the scarf. The corners of her eyes crinkled with concern for the cut on Xena's cheek. "You okay?"

"Okay." Any other time, Xena might have clamped her legs around the lovely bard, but she had to content herself with dropping her head down so her lips were obscured in the curtain of her own raven hair. "Pretend you are about to go down on me, get low and unlock my ankles!"

"In a minute…" Gabrielle was not in the mood for pretending.

"Gabrielle!" The murmur, while soft, was still desperate. Then in a stage whisper, "Oh, Gabrielle my love, touch me now!" she intoned for the benefit of their audience. "My arms are killing me! Will you hurry up, already?"

"I'll unlock a lot more than these chains, warrior," the bard whispered back very softly, her lips swelling over the words. Then louder she crooned, "Now you will be mine, Warrior Princess!" and she softly dipped her face into Xena's cleavage, mouthing the warm, sweet flesh and causing the most extraordinary sensations to race through the chained woman's body. Then the empath-bard began to project the arousal the she was feeling, as she played with power and sex.

Xena's eyes went wide. "Gabrielle?" Xena covered the look of shock on her face with something a little more coy, "Oh! My Amazon Queen!" But to her lover, her eyes said it all. Beaten at her own game. No longer acting, she just tried to keep from showing the men more than they needed to see.

With relish, Gabrielle realized that usually this sort of thing was the other way around, and it was she who typically waited for Xena to free her. "I've wanted to do this to you for so long…" she breathed, musically.

Xena felt the truth of it and nearly blacked out when the desire she felt from Gabrielle crashed into her heart. Tossing her hair out of her face, she pulled herself up on the chains, so she could lower herself against Gabrielle's leaning body. Looking down, Xena's heart skipped several beats, as she saw Gabrielle comprehend the true extent of her surrender. She gasped for air as gentle arms wrapped around her waist and the warmth of Gabrielle's face sunk lower on her body. Shock waves of passion pounded and grew stronger between them, timed with their own beating hearts.

When the golden head neared her sex, the heat within Xena shuddered and collapsed into a sublime climax. She held herself breathless and still, but Gabrielle had her arms around the leathered waist, and she felt the spasms breaking like waves inside of her lover's armored and suspended body.

Incredibly, the staring men had no idea of what had just taken place.

"Gotcha!" the bard whispered up to the warrior. Then, though no more than a moment or two had passed, she dropped down further to rub her cheek against the long muscles on the inside of Xena's thigh. She didn't hide the smile, but she was able to shield the key from view behind her body, as she unlocked Xena's ankle chains.

Then she began her ascent again, up the long body, trailing the scarf with the hidden key up over her armor. Gabrielle didn't want to waste any more time; she was in a hurry to end this kidnapping. She stood up on her toes and put her hands behind Xena's neck.

"Wait!" Xena grunted, and twisted her wrists around so she could grab the chains she hung from. Then she nodded her head.

Gabrielle jumped up high onto Xena's body, wrapping her legs around tight, and snaking her arms up along Xena's bracers, dragging the scarf up her left arm. She planted a sloppy kiss on the dark lips of the Warrior Princess, opening her mouth wide and letting her tongue show, slipping into Xena's mouth. This was, as it turned out, sufficient to distract the men, because they did not notice her unlock Xena's left manacle with the hidden key.

Xena, holding them up by the chains held in her strong hands, looked down at the woman latched to her body, and gave her more warning than she was used to. "Hang on!" she barked, then in what seemed like one simple movement, Xena shook the chains off her hands and feet and swung them both to the ground. Pushing Gabrielle behind her, she crouched and spread her legs wide, swinging the chain and the empty cuff from her right hand.

The men, on their part, simply needed a moment to grasp how radically the situation had just changed.

And that was enough time for the one that couldn't keep his hands out of his pants to hit the hay, after being caught in the gut with a swinging manacle.

"Two!" Xena cheered.

Whipping the chain around the giant's feet, Xena braced herself down low and brutally pulled his legs out from under him. He smacked his head against the wall as he fell, and did not move again.

"Three!" She narrowed her attention down to one man, Datis, who backed away from her toward the stairs.

To Xena's surprise, Gabrielle popped up behind him with the scarf, borrowed from his own belt. Her expression impish, the bard looked directly at Xena as she murmured into the slaver's ear, "Interested in bondage and domination today, are you?" just as she slipped the scarf over his eyes.

Xena finished the leader off with one good roundhouse kick to his jaw that dropped him like a sack of rice. But not before he had managed a blind kick of his own, that by dumb luck cracked one of her ribs.

"Get your stuff!" Breathlessly, Xena shook Gabrielle by the shoulders and gestured to their gear piled up in a corner.

The small hands laid out flat across Xena's bosom, rubbing in small circles. "Don't you think we could get going in… a minute or two?" Gabrielle was plainly not aware of the warrior's injury. She tilted her head and studied her hands as they drifted over the plump flesh of Xena's chest.

Xena's lip curled up and she stared at Gabrielle skeptically. "Here? In this moldy hole? You've got to be kidding. Get your stuff!" Spinning her around and with a gentle push, she sent a disappointed Gabrielle toward the gear. "If it's not food, it's gonna be sex with you, isn't it?" the warrior winced as she prodded her rib cage and buckled up the side straps of her armor as tight as they would go.

Grumbling a little about Xena being so pushy, Gabrielle got her goat bag and her disassembled staff. Looping the chakram over her arm and dragging the heavy sword in both hands, she stood up and carried the weapons over to the warrior. She found Xena standing over the group's leader, the one that had punched her, adjusting her breeches.

"You know, Xena" she chirped happily shaking out a blanket with one hand, which sent up a fog of dust all around her, "We are going to have to find a nice grassy place in the sun and lay these blankets out…"

Then Gabrielle noticed the man lying under Xena was soaking wet. She shot a look back up at Xena who was now attending to the lacings of her wrist guards. The bard's expression darkened dramatically, for one as light as she. She handed the weapons to Xena, pointed to the man and admonished, "Xena!"

Deadpanning, the warrior accepted the sword and lined it up with her scabbard. "What?" The sword slammed into the scabbard, and she looked down, unconcerned with Gabrielle's concerns.

"You know what I'm talking about!!"

The warrior's eyes got big and round and she started to say something that might have been sarcastic, but just then several things happened, all at once. And as you may know, when several things happen all at once, there is always a reason.

They heard the unmistakable sounds of more booted feet on the floor above them, and Gabrielle, still standing in a cloud of mold spores, began to sneeze.

Now, innocent sneezes can sometimes be very similar to other bodily functions. Like orgasms, for instance. But when an empath as powerful as Gabrielle sneezes as many times as she did that day, it jiggles the lines that are the waves on which things travel through time. It makes unlikely short cuts. Which is how, over two millennia later, at exactly the point in time where a couple of lines crossed, that a future priestess of Gaea called out to them in her uttermost need.

"Gabrielle…Xena!" The cry rasped, the voice almost familiar.

The call came from behind them, where a blue earthlight was seeping down around an iron grate in the wall, gradually dissolving it and opening into a round hole, just big enough to crawl through. Within the hole there was only darkness, and stars.

Xena shivered, the backs of her knees stinging, and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle as she thrashed and bucked, trying to muffle the sneezes with her body. But they had been heard, and the door at the top of the stairs opened as half a dozen booted feet clambered through.

From within the starry hole in the wall came another call, definitely the voice of a woman. Something about the call rang true for Xena, and she tested the hole quickly by putting her hand into it. When it came back unhurt, she wrapped her arm over Gabrielle's shoulder and tightened it around the bard's body.

"Xeeda…whad are you dooeg?" Gabrielle asked, dizzy from the sneezes, "There are odly sits of dem…waaaait!!

But no power on earth could stop Xena when she was chasing a hunch, and she lunged into the magical gate, pulling Gabrielle with her.


Chapter IV

Alice edged the Volvo cautiously into the driveway, and sighed with relief when she saw there wasn't a U-haul truck parked there. The drive home from her volunteer job had been annoying enough, with all the last minute fall construction projects. She shook her head, disgusted with the city planners, and began framing a complaint letter in her mind. Alice's mind sharpened itself on the whetstone of complaints. She felt some of her letters to the editor of the city paper had been masterpieces. She set the anti-theft device, took the face off her stereo, snapped it into it's carrying case, and unfolded her long frame out of the car door.

Not two steps away the car alarm went off, it's shrill siren destroying the peace of her quiet neighborhood. She cringed when she thought of the comments she would get, since it was she who usually reported the other households for excessive noise. Her urgent search for keys quickly became frantic, checking her jeans front and back, her vest, and her shirt pockets. Her thin white hands patted over her body through her clothes, patted over her breasts, which didn't even bother to wake up from their long, long nap. Finally, in a frenzy of frustration she pounded the car door with the face case of the radio, and it popped open, spilling the face and her keys out onto the ground. Dislodging her band-aide in the scrabble to grab the keys, she flung open the car door and with shaking hands, deactivated the alarm.

The silence hissed with accusations, and the facades of the other houses glared with cold disapproval.

It took a minute or two of sitting on the edge of the car seat doing a Buddhist chant under her breath before she was able to get her equilibrium back. Shakily, she picked up the stereo face, and found that it had shattered in the fall to the pavement.

In something of a daze, she made it all the way to the mailbox, through the front door, and into the kitchen without any mishaps. Leaving the stereo and the keys on the counter, she got a glass of orange juice, which nearly glowed with the color it brought into her home, and wandered over to the computer, her ears still ringing from the car alarm.

Listlessly, she shuffled through the mail and found a familiar envelope, scented and imprinted with a tasteful Monet garden scene around the edges. It was from her mother. Inside was a traveler's cheque and a pink sticky, hastily penned. "Off to the villa in Lyons for a month or two! Almost forgot your allowance! This ought to hold you till Mummy gets back!" The sticky was signed with her characteristic flourish "Your Mummy." The traveler's check was for a total of ten thousand dollars. Last time, her spending money had come in deutchmarks.

Alice stared at the zeros resentfully, knowing she would deposit the check in the morning. She hated her newfound compliance, and dreading the consequences she would face by becoming dependence upon her mother's money. She had always prided herself on self reliance and was a little mystified by it's recent surrender…

Once again, there were two emails waiting for her. The first was from the Psychic Buddies. She found an unusual oracle icon, a tiny picture of a female psychic with white eyes. The caption under the picture said "I'm your personal Psychic, Velasca! CLICK ME!" and Alice almost laughed, but not quite. …That's the name of the facilitator of the anger management workshop!… she thought, amused at the coincidence. She followed the link, but just as she clicked the mouse, a huge sonic boom shook the windows in their casings, startling her so much that she exited out of the link, before she could read her free personalized psychic message.

Then she opened her second and last email.

"Alice," it read, "you are quick to accuse. I AM a Rabbi, as well as a XWP fan, and as little as I care for your characterizations of either Xena or Judaism, I find you appalling lack of MANNERS most offensive!" It was signed: "No Longer Confused."

She stared at the screen, as the afternoon's plan for her first Hebrew class evaporated in the white-hot flame of her own secret fears. Alice lived with an inexplicable certainty that some small thing would eventually break through her immaculate defenses, and be her complete undoing. The fear had driven from her lover and her livelihood, into her Slate and Steel lair. Deep inside that colorless den, fear of the unknown now gloated and fed upon Alice's soul.

Shutting down the computer, she rose like a ghost and went to the bathroom. When she emerged once again, her wounded hand sported a gauzy wrap, and she was confident that her mood might improve, though her confidence was now pharmaceutically inspired.

Then she went out to lock the big garage door, which she had left unlocked for Margaret. Just after she left the house, friendly little bells pealed out of the dormant computer, signaling an impossible Instant Message. The blinking link was huge, filling the screen. "CLICK ME!" But, as things happened, Velasca and the Psychic Buddies had to take a number for some of Alice's time. It was, however, a very near thing.

With a sound like a gunshot, Alice snapped on the overhead garage light, and was disappointed to find Margaret's things were all still there. In a wave of anger, she realized that she would have to dicker with her ex-lover again over when to come over, and then make arrangements to not be home...and now there would be no Hebrew class to cover whatever plans she wanted to cancel out of… She felt her blood run cold, and her breathing became difficult, as rage froze her heart and stole her mind.

…in another part of the city, Velasca's attention was suddenly distracted from a moment of sabotage in a VCR retail department. She felt that her champion was ready, her anger and her fear had peaked. The timing was off; Alice was away from the computer and out of reach of the final casting of the spell. It would take a personal home visit. She soared high, then arched straight down, arrowing into a sleepy suburb, onto a quiet street…

At that moment, in the unlikely location of Alice's garage, one of those things happened that are so often mistaken as coincidences by the spiritually detached. The trailing wave from the ancient Greek sneezing incident, and a snagging spell cast by Gaea intersected in the precise location of Alice's garage. These magical activities might have gone on about their way, the whisper of these tremendous destinies not even a breeze to stir Alice's angelic white hair, immobilized by styling gel. And this so this story might have gone on without her. But the snagging spell got tangled in the very moment of mindless rage that Velasca had trained Alice so carefully for.

Leaning in, Alice reached past a tall pile of Margaret's outdoor gear, so she could lock the automatic door. With a startling jerk, the door came to life and began to grind open. The unexpected movement caught the lightheaded Alice off balance, and she grabbed at the strap of a duffel bag on the pile to keep herself from falling backward.

Because of the way her head was spinning, it took a second to realize that beyond the enlarging doorway was not her driveway, or her house, or her street. Outside, where the Volvo should have been, it was impossibly dark and quiet, with a dazzling field of stars. The mind of Alice Vanders went completely blank as she found herself being tipped, like leftovers off of a fancy plate, into the starry morass. And Alice, along with some of Margaret's best outdoor gear, fell soundlessly into the infinite space beyond the door.

And in the end Alice was right, a small thing really was the complete undoing of the woman she had become.


Velasca howled in fury, as she felt her champion dissolve out of her awareness.

"She can't just disappear!" The goddess' voice boomed, creating an eruption of static on local radio stations. Inside the garage, she shimmered into being, stepping right out of a cement portrait of Margaret. She strode through the clutter like a Titan in a crockery shop, tipping over boxes and throwing bags. But she never found Alice, only the trace of her having been there. And something else…an odor…Her brow furrowed deeply, something familiar…

She jerked her head up, certain. It was the damn magic from that disgusting jungle. Suddenly, she lost interest in the city, in the legions of potential worshippers. Suddenly, all she wanted was to find out what was going on down there. …

At her feet, the smallest of breezes played a circle game, which grew into a wind that gathered and spun around her knees. Then it consumed her and winked out with a sparkle and a howl, leaving the garage a fine mess for someone else to find later.


~~~End of Part One~~~

Continue to Part Two

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