An Awakening - Part 21
by Hunter Ash
Ownership: Repeat after me: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, etc. I'm borrowing them for entertainment purposes, please don't bother to sue me, you wouldn't even get court costs.
Violence: about typical of an episode.
Subtext/Alt Sex: the story assumes a loving and sexual relationship between people of the same gender and of the opposite sex. If this offends you or is illegal for you then please leave. Come back when you are older, have an open mind, moved, or changed your laws.
Feedback: always welcome and responded to!
Storyline: Xena, Gabrielle, Sasha, Eponin and Hallvor answer a psychic call for help from the Northern Amazons with winter approaching. The tribe is under attack by something very terrifying and close to the bard.
The story can stand on its own but it is part of a series and you might want to catch some of the earlier parts to know exactly who is who.
A Visit Home, an Awakening 1 * An Awakening, Discovery, 2 * Amazon Bonding, Awakening 3 * Healing, 4 * Trial of a Roman, 5 * Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother; 6 * Reunited, 7 * Ides of March, 8 * Children of Gods, 9 * Even with Ares, 10 * Settling with Brutus, 11 * Darkness Awakening, 12 * Amazons North, 13 * Amazon Darkness, 14 * The Wild Hunt, 15 * Bard Scrolls, 16 * A God's Twilight, 17 * Chakram, 18 * Death and Rain, 19 * Beowulf & Grendel, 20 * Nightstalkers, 21 * Blood Darkness, 22
"Well, little one," Xena said softly as Gabrielle crawled into her arms late one evening. "The Vikings are about celebrated out and most of them are leaving tomorrow, back to their own Halls and lands to prepare for winter. Which way do you want to go? Greece or the Black Forest with Pony and Hallvor?"
"The Black Forest, I think," Gabrielle whispered, her hands roaming under Xena's tunic and across the warrior's ribs. With a soft moan, she began nuzzling the warrior's neck.
"I agree, but we either should settle in with the Black Forest Amazons for winter or make it a short stay," the warrior commented, her own hands removing Gabrielle's sleeping shirt under the furs.
"We'll decide when we get there," Gabrielle mumbled, her head disappearing under the furs, a moment later her lips began suckling one of Xena's nipples and the warrior suddenly was no longer interested in talking about leaving in the next couple of days.
It had been two weeks since the death of Grendel, the monster and the return of Gabrielle from the dead. During that time the Vikings who survived the battle and their families had been celebrating in the great hall of Hrothgar, the local jarl, or king.
Now everyone was tired, happy and contemplating facing the typically harsh winter of the Northern lands and thinking of their own homes, family and kith left behind. Eponin's broken leg was healing fine but it would still be a couple more weeks before she could put weight on the splinted limb. She was forced to get around with crutches on the ice and patches of snow on the ground.
Hallvor, her sister Viking Amazon, was faring better after her battle with Grendel. Xena, Beowulf and Hallvor had been forced to sacrifice the young Viking female when they realized that she was physically connected to the monster. Xena had sunk her chakram deep in the young werserker's chest. It had been the skills and gifts of the Norse goddess Freya and Sasha's developing powers that had brought the Amazon back whole and in better control of her wolf-side.
Then Freya had made a demand of Xena that the warrior hadn't been willing to pay: the Northern gods wanted Freya to train Sasha in her god-skills when they blossomed at the young girls' first menstrual cycle. Xena had refused to let her daughter go. Gabrielle had sacrificed her life for Xena's. Too many warriors had fallen to Grendel's claws and teeth, and Hallvor had nearly died. Xena wasn't about to lose her daughter as well. The Norns brought Gabrielle back in gratitude for the death of Grendel but Freya and Odin still insisted on Sasha being trained in the North or the child faced becoming worse than Xena ever was as the warlord; a ruthless child of darkness with the powers of gods.
Xena had finally compromised with the return of Gabrielle and the promise that they would return to the north for Sasha's training in a year and a half, before her first blood cycle. The warrior wasn't happy but the gods had reassured the bard and warrior that it was training, they weren't permanently taking the child and she would see both her moms often.
After that had been decided, Xena and Gabrielle settled into celebrating with the Vikings and adjusting to the fact that Gabrielle was alive once again and in Xena's arms. Both Gabrielle and Xena found they were a little insecure and didn't want the other one out of their sight for long and needed to touch each other frequently, as if to reassure themselves that the other was real and alive.
Hrothgar had made the band of female warriors feel very welcome in his hall and had invited them to stay for the winter months if they wished but Xena and Gabrielle were anxious to move on. They also knew that Hallvor and Pony wanted to get back to their small Amazon band to help out in the winter.
The next morning found the warriors sleepy but doing better. Xena went off to help around the steading while Gabrielle went to talk with Eponin and Hallvor about traveling before the first real winter storm hit.
Before she found the Amazons, Sasha asked to talk with her. Bard and child sat down near one of the pit fires.
"What is it Sasha?" Gabrielle asked.
Instead of answering right away the child shuffled her feet, looked down and refused to meet Gabrielle's eyes. The bard raised the child's chin up until blue eyes met green ones.
It's okay, the bard encouraged. Tell me.
"I've been seeing and hearing things," the child said softly, her eyes downcast. Gabrielle understood, the last vision Sasha had seen was of Xena hanging from a tree, battered beyond recognition and almost dead. The vision had happened at the claws and fists of Grendel. Only Gabrielle exchanging her life for Xena's had saved the warrior.
"What have you seen and heard, Sash?" the bard asked gently.
"I see the Northern Amazons, some of them are being attacked by dark women," Sasha tried explaining, becoming frustrated.
Gabrielle also understood the problem; she sometimes had difficulty describing whatever she had seen in a vision on the rare occasions when they happened.
"Dark women?" Gabrielle frowned. "Close your eyes," she instructed. "Now, can you see the vision you saw?" The child nodded and Gabrielle smiled slightly. "Now, what do you see, tell me very slowly?"
"I see Otere fighting with two women," Sasha began.
Gabrielle spotted Xena heading their way and she placed a finger on her lips and the warrior approached quietly and stood behind Sasha, listening in.
"Can you see the women she's fighting?" the bard questioned. "What kind of clothing do they have on?"
"Furs and leathers, like Amazons only dark painted. They wear hoods up over their heads, like Odin," Sasha spoke softly. "Their fingernails are very long and they use them like claws, they're not using any weapons but Otere is."
"Is her sword working?" Gabrielle asked, glancing up at her worried mate.
"No, it slashes their clothes and skin but they only bleed a little, not enough." Gabrielle immediately sensed the child becoming anxious.
"It's okay, Sasha, it's just pictures right now. Anything else about the women?"
"They have fangs like a wolf," the child whispered. Gabrielle thought she was going to fall off the stool she was sitting on. Sasha had seen her bacchae fangs and eyes before, was this the same thing?
"Are they like me, Sash?" Gabrielle forced herself to ask.
"No, they're hurting the Amazons and Yakut is yelling for me to help them, to bring you and Mom," Sasha answered.
"Oh gods," Xena muttered, noticing Gabrielle's hands shaking. "Sasha," the warrior said gently, squatting down beside her daughter. Sasha kept her eyes closed but smiled at the sound of her mom's voice. "Do you see Mattita, the Amazon who hurt us when we left the Northern sisters?"
"Yes, she's fighting Otere too, everyone is fighting everyone," the child responded.
"Oh gods, Xena," Gabrielle growled. "A civil war and an attack from the outside by bacchae?"
"Sounds something like it, doesn't it?" Xena commented as Sasha opened her eyes and hugged her mom. "It's probably not bacchae though but vampiir. That's what they call them up here, vampiir or upir. Women and men who have been killed by one vampiir and they become vampiir themselves."
"Different than bacchae?" Gabrielle frowned. She knew that there were many different types of blood-sucking creatures, including once-human ones. She knew about the Greek ones and some of the Baltic area ones as well.
"Yes, sunlight hurts them when they're young and can kill them," Xena answered. "The only real way to kill them is either stake them with wood or decapitate them."
"How do you know about them?" the bard asked as Sasha sat back down on her stool, listening to the two adults.
"Yakut told me about them when we fought Alti," Xena responded. "She figured out that you were a partial bacchae from Alti's spell. That's why you didn't have to explain when we needed her to help get us blood in the winter."
"Now they're in trouble from vampiir, my kin, it would seem," Gabrielle said bitterly.
"They aren't your kin, Gabrielle," Xena growled. She hated the fact that the bard still looked at her bacchae cravings as a curse. Xena had accepted it a long time ago, why couldn't Gabrielle.
Then the warrior mentally scolded herself. How many times had Gabrielle asked Xena to forgive herself for the warlord's past?
Xena had always resisted, not feeling that forgiveness was for her. She knew that Gabrielle hated having some of Bacchus' blood in her veins, even if Xena didn't mind most of the time. Only when it caused her mate pain did Xena object. Like the time Gabrielle almost starved to death from blood cravings, or when an Arabic sorcerer working for a Viking Jarl had held the bard and starved her until her craving for blood was maddening. Her bard had resisted hurting anyone innocent though.
Gabrielle watched the thoughts running through Xena's mind and could almost follow them. They had argued enough about Gabrielle's shame about being a partial bacchae. The bard knew that Xena actually enjoyed the time when Gabrielle needed her blood, when she needed the connection and the sex. The bard had to admit that she enjoyed that as well but not the fact that she NEEDED the blood and sex and that it wasn't a choice.
The warrior glanced up and smiled at her daughter and mate. "You'll find Hallvor and Eponin and see if they want to go with us?" Xena questioned.
"We'll risk Mattita trying to take Sasha again?" Gabrielle questioned.
Xena's smile became a look of intense anger, remembering the Law Speaker of the Northern Amazons trying to keep Gabrielle and Sasha in the North while exiling Solan and his would-be wife, Reija. It had come down to the small band escaping in the night and Mattita trying to kill them, her archers almost succeeding with both Gabrielle and Xena. The power mad Amazon had wanted the child because she had overheard that Sasha was the child of gods and would probably have powers when she was older.
"I'll rip Mattita's heart out before she takes one step towards Sasha and face whatever consequences there might be," Xena growled.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that, my love," Gabrielle smiled slightly. "I don't think the Amazons need a civil war, attacks by vampiir and a war with the Warrior Princess all at the same time."
Xena finally smiled at Gabrielle's smirk. "We'll work it out," she said, a little calmer.
"I'll find Hallvor and Pony and see if they'll go with us," Gabrielle said as she rose from her stool.
Sasha turned towards her mom. "You're not mad at me?"
"For what, Sash?" Xena asked, pulling the child into her arms for another hug.
"For seeing bad things?"
"No, not at all," Xena said gently. "You don't cause the bad things, you just see them. It might even save lives, little one."
"Really?" Sasha questioned, her eyebrows furrowed, looking almost like a small twin of Xena.
"Yes, you didn't see if Otere was okay or not, we might get there in time to make sure she's okay when those vampiir attack," Xena pointed out.
"Okay," the child said brightly. "I'll go pack!"
Xena smiled as she watched the child scamper away and then began to frown, thinking about the trip and what they might be facing. One thing she and Gabrielle hadn't discussed, it was coming on full winter and they probably wouldn't make it back before the snow hit.
They were looking at spending the long winter months with the Northern Amazons. The last time they had been there they had nearly died and lost Sasha.
As both Xena and Gabrielle thought, both Hallvor and Eponin wanted to travel further North with the Greeks. The female warriors and child packed their things and began making their goodbyes to the Vikings.
As expected, Hrothgar insisted on another feast to thank the women for their aid in defeating Grendel. Xena drew the Viking Jarl aside and quietly protested that she was the reason for Grendel in the first place. Hrothgar merely laughed and hugged the surprised warrior and called for a feast anyway.
Xena tried to ignore Gabrielle's smirk of amusement at Xena's discomfort, the bard shrugging at her mate. Both knew that nothing now would stop the Vikings from celebrating yet another night.
Xena hoped they had enough supplies to last the winter with all this feasting.
Early the next morning at dawn the females took in the goodbye hugs, hand-shakes and giftings from the Vikings.
Gabrielle walked over to Beowulf and looked up at the huge Viking and grinned. Beowulf smiled down at the little blond in turn.
Little bard, he said softly. If you ever need anything, anywhere, anytime, I will be there.
Thank you, Beowulf, Gabrielle smiled and hugged the Viking. You have our friendship as well.
You mean more to me than that, Little Greek, he smiled as he put the smaller woman down. I also like your mate. Be happy with her.
The small group finally made their way out of the steading and began a quick pace towards the North. A feeling of urgency hitting them once they were away from the now cheerful Vikings.
Gabrielle pulled up close to Xena and Argo.
How long will it take? the bard questioned.
At this pace a couple of days, but we'll probably have to slow up with snow, the warrior answered, looking up at the sky.
Xena, if Sasha is right then we're walking into a hornet's nest, the bard commented.
We usually are, we just don't know it half the time, the warrior grinned.
Why isn't anything ever easy for us? the bard grinned back
I don't know, Xena admitted.
The bard wished they had more time to travel at a slower pace as they moved further and further North. The land always fascinated the writer in her. At times it seemed so bleak that she had to wonder how anyone could survive and at other times it was so beautiful that it was breath-taking, especially the fjords along the coast and the meadows hidden in the mountains.
It took a rough breed of people to live in this climate and the Vikings and Northern Amazons were such breeds. Strong and cold hardened but with an undying sense of humor. Maybe it was the rough life, the bard thought to herself, that raised people that could laugh in the face of death and welcome it with a roar and a smile.
The one that worried Gabrielle was Mattita, Law Speaker of the Northern Amazons. The bard thought that Mattita was one that truly reflected her surroundings; cold, harsh, and unbending. One of the qualities that this Amazon didn't share in common with most of the Amazons and Vikings Gabrielle knew; Mattita was a coward.
Gabrielle knew that there were thieves, liars, cowards and other such low-life among the Amazons and Vikings but they were usually dealt with harshly when discovered. Unfortunately for everyone, Mattita hadn't been fully discovered before she had gathered enough power to hold almost half the Amazons in her power or way of thinking.
Xena was also worried and not only about Mattita, she was also worried about Sasha's vision. If the dark women were vampiir then they were facing supernatural creatures again, much like the bacchae. When they had faced the bacchae Xena had almost lost Gabrielle to the dark side and the bard had been cursed with being a partial bacchae. Xena was worried how her bard would handle dealing with other creatures who needed blood to survive. And why were the Amazons being targeted by these creatures?
The trip turned into three days, the small band of women and child beating the first harsh storms of the winter in the Siberian north.
As they approached Amazon territory, every one of them had a weapon in hand and was on high alert. Gabrielle and Xena began frowning after a candle-mark.
What is it? Eponin questioned as they stopped the horses by a stream. She looked over at Xena, the warrior was with sword in hand and bouncing lightly on her toes.
We're already in Amazon territory, have been for a while, Gabrielle answered, keeping one sai in hand as she held the reins of the horses. We should have been challenged long before this.
I thought so, their signs aren't much different than ours in the South, Pony commented and Gabrielle nodded.
Yes, there should be scouts around and guards this far in, the bard muttered, getting even more worried than they had been when they heard Sasha's vision.
Will we make it to the village before dark, the sun is already set? Hallvor asked as she joined the two.
Gabrielle looked at the sky and the surrounding land and continued to frown.
I don't know, it'll be close, she responded.
The warrior turned and trotted over to the others. Let's ride! I don't want to be out here too long after it gets dark, she said, echoing the thoughts of the others.
A candle-mark later the bard leaned over towards her mate.
Xena, we have to camp soon or the horses are going to break a leg in this darkness, she suggested.
I know, it's just this place is as eerie as the Bacchae Forest, Xena muttered.
Gabrielle, looking around at the weird shadows being cast by strangely bent tree limbs and lurking darkness, nodded in agreement.
Let's camp and light a fire then, Eponin suggested in a soft voice behind Xena and Gabrielle.
Alright, the warrior agreed.
The small group was about to dismount when screeches filled the air and figures seemed to detach themselves from the shadows of the trees and launch themselves at the women and child.
Gabrielle yelled out in surprise as two different figures hit her from almost opposite sides. The bard was a mass of flying arms and legs as she tumbled off the horse with the two figures holding tight.
The bard managed to get her sai from her right boot as clawed hands sought her face and throat and began smashing back against the two monstrous women attacking her. A good smack on the side of one of the creature's head would have been enough to knock a normal human unconscious but the human-appearing creature shook her head and dived for Gabrielle's neck with fangs bared and yellow eyes shining.
Xena turned towards Sasha at the sound of the first screech and was tackled off Argo along with the rest of the party. Unlike the others, however, Xena's horse wasn't a normal travel animal but a respected friend and ally. The horse screamed, her ears laid back alongside her head as she spun and knocked one figure off of Xena and slashed out with her fore-hooves at the other, distracting the creature.
The warrior was able to grab her chakram and slashed out as the creature attempted to turn its attention to her. A moment later and the creature was nothing but dust as its head became separated from her body. Both Argo and Xena scrambled to reach the child as she screamed in terror, flailing away at the creature picking her up and raising her to the it's chest.
Xena screamed in rage and launched her chakram as the creature started to bend its head to her child's neck. The creature turned with a roar of rage, dropping Sasha, as Xena caught the chakram. The vampiir reached behind her and felt along her lower back at the slash. The second strike from the chakram decapitated the vampiir now that Sasha wasn't in the way.
Their heads! Xena screamed as she took in the sight of the other three women fighting vampiirs. Take their heads!
The warrior turned to her faithful horse, Argo, protect Sasha! she ordered and the mare turned and stood by the crying child, her hooves slashing out at anything that got close to her charge.
Xena was about to work her way towards Gabrielle when three more vampiir tackled her, forcing her to the ground with their blows and body weight. The warrior screamed a war cry and kept slashing at anything grabbing for her, she fought her way to her knees when she felt hands grab her shoulders and throw her to the hard ground, her head bouncing from the impact. Xena tried to shake off the blackness threatening to take her consciousness as she weakly slashed with the chakram.
Eponin, with a broken leg, found herself at a distinct disadvantage as she fought two vampiir attempting to sink their fangs in her throat. Somehow the Amazon weapons-master crawled to a tree and placed her back to it and kept slashing with her sword at anything trying to get close to her. Sasha scrambled to her feet and ran over to the Amazon with her own small knife drawn and Argo followed, protecting both the woman and child.
Hallvor growled under the weight of three vampiir and fought to reach her sax, her long Viking knife. The werserker howled in rage as a set of claw-like fingernails slashed across her lower back and she felt herself shift. Hallvor turned and slashed back with her own set of claws and let the change and battle lust hit her.
The remaining vampiir turned and stared at the werewolf in their midst. Gabrielle and the others were stunned when the vampiir screamed in apparent rage and launched themselves at Hallvor, all en masse. The werserker went down under a pile of dark clothed women vampires.
Gabrielle struggled to her knees and wanted to throw her hands over her ears at the noises that followed. The screams, howls, and screeches from the vampiir and werserker were ear-shattering and raised the hackles on the humans.
With a howl Hallvor stood up, shaking off the vampiir for a moment. When they attacked again the wereling grabbed one by the throat and slashed out with her other hand, decapitating the vampiir with her claws. She quickly dropped the vampiir before it even had a chance to turn to dust and thrust an elbow into the face of a vampiir coming up behind her. Hall then grabbed another and ripped an arm off and threw it back at the startled vampiir.
The bard fought back a gag reflex and the vampiir scattered and melted into the shadows.
The women looked over at the wereling as the creature glared back, eyes battle maddened, blood dripping from her claws. Gabrielle went into a defensive position with her sais as the creature growled deep in her throat. Then the werserker looked to the sky and howled a long wolf-howl.
Hallvor then sank to her knees and weakly pulled at her cloak.
Sasha, Eponin said softly, pull her cloak over her, she instructed, instinctively realizing what the wereling was trying to do.
The child quickly grabbed the cloak from behind Hallvor and threw it over the werserker's head and Hallvor fell forward heavily.
Gabrielle turned her attention to Xena and the others as the figure under the cloak whimpered and twitched.
Xena was shaking her head and holding the back of it, eyes still slightly unfocused as Gabrielle approached.
You okay, lover? the bard asked, voice heavy with concern.
Yeah, just knocked my brains around a little, the warrior joked as she looked over and saw Sasha helping Pony to her feet and Argo prancing proudly. I'm okay.
Gabrielle frowned as Xena reached down for her sword. Xena, your hand, she pointed and Xena tried to comprehend. Is your head bleeding?
The warrior reached to the back of her head again and brought it back around to find it covered with fresh blood.
Terrific! she complained and swayed slightly on her feet. Gabrielle reached out and steadied her mate.
Hallvor! Gabrielle called. Are you back with us under there yet?
A muttered response met the bard's question.
You're from the North, what protects us from these things? Gabrielle demanded.
Fire, only fire, came a muttered reply.
Are you alright under there? Eponin called out.
When only a mutter came from under the cloak Eponin turned to Xena and Gabrielle with a frown.
She'll be okay, after a werserker rage she needs to sleep. Makes them vulnerable after a battle, Xena commented as Gabrielle led her over to the tree which Eponin was leaning against.
Sasha ran up with Pony's crutches and handed them to the Amazon with a grin.
Come on, Sasha, the bard suggested. Let's gather some wood really fast and light some fires.
Pony decided to give up standing and slid down to sit next to Xena as the warrior pressed a piece of her tunic against her head. Both of them were covered in blood and neither was sure which blood belonged to whom at that moment. They knew some of it was from the vampiir and they figured some of it was theirs from scratches and the head wound.
Xena watched Gabrielle and Sasha closely as they quickly gathered wood for several small fires, neither one of them getting out of sight. The warrior kept the chakram at the ready and Pony kept her sword in her hand until the band had a small ring of fires surrounding them. Only then did they let down their guard but then only slightly.
Xena kept trying to focus her eyes as they constantly darted around, trying to look in the shadows just beyond the fire ring as Gabrielle slowly cleaned the blood and dust from her warrior mate. She found that the warrior had gashed her head slightly when thrown to the ground and had numerous cuts and slashes, including a matching pair of slashes on the left side of the warrior's neck.
The bard quickly wrapped a bandage around Xena's head and cleaned the other wounds and then turned her attention to Pony. Gabrielle found the Amazon had actually faired better than she and Xena had, with fewer slashes and scratches but she had twisted the broken leg and it was throbbing. Gabrielle frowned as Eponin gritted her teeth in pain, sweat beginning to stand out on her brow from the pain.
Xena, could she have re-broken it? Gabrielle questioned.
I don't think so, the warrior muttered, touching the slashes at her neck with a frown. It'll probably be better in the morning, elevate it for a bit.
The bard discovered Hallvor groggy and fine except for a few scratches. Gabrielle looked at Xena in confusion but the warrior merely shrugged.
Most of the wounds seem to heal when the berserker or werserker change back into human. She'll sleep heavily tonight, Xena commented.
She's the only one who will, I think, Gabrielle muttered.
The tired and battered group approached the village of the Northern Amazons a little after dawn. They were surprised and pleased to find the village in its normal early morning buzz of activity. After the night before the small band was worried they'd find an empty village.
They were also surprised when a group of Amazon warriors rushed forward with drawn swords, arrows notched and spears pointed at them.
Gabrielle frowned, in the lead was Svetlana, Scout Captain and well known to both Xena and Gabrielle.
Halt! the Captain called.
Greetings, sister, Gabrielle responded. We seek welcome to the village, these are Amazon sisters and you know my Consort.
You spent the night in the forest? Svetlana demanded, looking closely at their bandages and scratches.
Yes, we found no guards, no scouts and couldn't make it here before dark last night, Gabrielle answered, her frown back again.
Then you are denied entrance to the village, you've obviously have been attacked by the upir! The Captain snapped, keeping her spear raised.
The Southern Amazon Queen heard a growl from Xena and Hallvor but was relieved when Queen Otere stepped out of a hut and quickly hurried over to the warriors.
What is it, Svetlana? You know them! she snapped.
They were in the forest last night and were attacked, the Captain answered.
Otere turned and carefully looked over the group. You were attacked by the vampiir? she asked.
Yes, and we killed a few of them! Xena snapped back.
Were any of you bitten? Otere asked.
No, why? Gabrielle answered with a curious frown.
Are you sure? Otere pressed. Sometimes the victim doesn't know they've been bitten, the vampiir clouds their memory.
We were in the middle of a fight, we got scratched and slashed but no one got bit, Xena growled.
Then welcome them in, Svetlana, Otere ordered.
Yes, my Queen, the Captain said and pulled her spear back in a salute and the rest of the Amazon warriors followed her example.
Gabrielle grinned and dismounted quickly as Otere trotted forward and hugged her sister queen.
Hallvor and Sasha followed Xena in dismounting, while Eponin, with her broken leg, stayed on her horse.
Otere pulled back and hugged Xena and then carefully looked them over.
You two look great! A little battered on the edges but good! the Queen beamed as Svetlana came forward to greet Xena with a warrior handshake. This is Sasha? Otere questioned, looking over the growing child.
Yup, she's getting taller, Xena grinned.
Taller? By the gods, Xena, Otere grinned and hugged the child, She's going to be as tall as you.
Probably, the warrior agreed.
And these are Amazons? You're rebuilding the tribe? Otere questioned, taking in the sight of Pony and Hallvor.
Yes, some of the tribe survived and they're beginning to rebuild their numbers in the Black Forest. The Southern Amazon tribe is alive, Gabrielle said proudly and nodded towards Eponin. This is Eponin, weapons master and my Regent. She'll probably end up Queen since I can't be there all the time. This is Hallvor, an adopted Amazon from the Vikings. She is their Scout and weapons master as well.
Queen Otere and the other Amazons gave an Amazon salute to their sisters with smiles.
Now, come sisters! Otere ordered. Take their horses and put them up, put their gear in one of the winter huts. Someone help Eponin down with those crutches and everyone meet in the food hall and we'll hear tell of their adventures from our sister bard and queen!
Hallvor stayed behind to help Eponin down from the horse as Xena, Gabrielle and Sasha walked with Otere and Svetlana towards the largest wooden hall.
What is happening, Otere? Gabrielle questioned as they approached the familiar building.
You mean since you left or last night? the small and young queen countered.
Okay, we'll wait until we've eaten," the bard grinned.
The Amazons, Sasha, bard and the Warrior Princess dived into their food, especially the visitors. They hadn't fixed a warm dinner or breakfast after fighting off vampiir and spending the night in the forest. They had only eaten cold trail food and were hungry.
During breakfast it seemed to the visitors that every Amazon had come up to greet and welcome them. Finally, Otere stood up and raised her hand for attention and the hall fell quiet.
Sisters, we welcome our sisters from the Black Forest. We are pleased and will celebrate in the future with the news that our sister tribe has survived and is rebuilding. Queen Gabrielle and the others have asked what has happened since they last visited us. I call upon Terje, our skald, to tell the tale.
A small Amazon stood up and went to the head of the Hall as two Amazons placed a chair near the fireplace. Terje was old and moved slowly and once she was settled into the chair one of the Amazon placed a hearthrug blanket over the elder's legs.
Queen Gabrielle, her Consort Xena and their child were with us in the winter months after the defeat of Alti, Terje began. Their son broke Amazon law and fell in love with an Amazon and ignored the courting rules. It was decided that they would be exiled into the snow. Our friends from the South protested that this decision was one of death in the winter months, especially as the boy was blind.
Several Amazons shifted in their seats. Everyone knew what an exile during the winter months meant in the Siberian north. They remembered the battles with the Elder Council and the visiting Greeks to keep the two teenagers alive.
It was decided that the sentence would be delayed for three moons, Terje continued. This was still close to a death sentence, it still being too much into the winter months but it was decided. It was also the decision of the Law Maker that Queen Gabrielle and the child Sasha would not be allowed to leave in the snow, both of them being too important to the tribe to risk their deaths.
Gabrielle saw Xena and Otere both gritting their teeth in memory.
Our visitors fought this decision of being separated, the old Amazon smiled as she watched the fire dance. Queen Gabrielle and her Consort could not stand to be separated from each other and their family split apart. It is said that they suspected the Law Speaker Mattita of conspiring against them to claim the child Sasha and kill the adults. The group of Gabrielle, Xena, Solan, Reija and the child disappeared into the night of the solstice, the coldest and longest night.
Terja paused and drank some of the hot tea an Amazon handed her.
Law Speaker Mattita reported that she had attempted to invoke Amazon law preventing anyone from traveling in the winter months but the Greeks attacked her and her small band of Amazon scouts and disappeared down river in the night. We weren't sure if the Greeks lived or not until we heard tales from a passing skald of their adventures with theVikings in the land south.
Gabrielle felt her hands clenching into fists at the description of their escape from the Amazon village. It wasn't quite like Mattita had reported to the tribe but Gabrielle kept quiet for the moment.
It was decreed that Queen Gabrielle and Xena were outlaws to our tribe and were to be arrested and their child taken in as an Amazon sister if they should return to our village, Terje continued.
The bard wasn't surprised when she felt Xena's hand fall to her chakram, her own hand was resting on her right sai.
Otere quickly motioned for them to be calm and stay still.
It was then that our own Queen Otere brought charges against our Law Speaker, accusing her of planning the kidnapping of the child of Xena and Queen Gabrielle and of cowardice during battle, Terje said simply. Yakut performed a most difficult spell working and brought forth the spirit of her mother who testified against the Law Speaker. She told of the battle with Xena and Alti, years before. Yakut's mother told of how Mattita was her battle partner and that Mattita turned and ran, leaving the Scout lieutenant open to one of Xena's traps and her death.
Xena closed her eyes against the memory of that day, of Amazons flying through the trees to land on sharpened branches, of spiked logs flying through the air on ropes to smash Amazons into trees and impaling them, of Queen Cyrane's death at her hands. She felt Gabrielle reach out and hold her hand reassuringly.
Law Speaker Mattita was exiled and several Amazons went with her. They began attacking the scouts and isolated Amazons they found, either killing or maiming our sisters, or kidnapping them. Our exiled sisters haven't been seen since, Terje said, her voice heavy with emotion.
Xena glanced across the table at Otere and wasn't surprised to find the young Amazon was gritting her teeth and her face was red with anger.
Thus began the civil war we find ourselves in now, Sisters, Terje continued. Amazon against Amazon. Law Speaker against Queen. Then the attacks of the vampiir women began. They come in the night with screeches and wails to grab anyone who isn't inside. We found the villages to the east and south of us have been wiped out by these demons. Our scouts can no longer venture out and guard our village at night and we huddle in our halls like frightened children.
The attacks began about a three moons ago, Otere continued, talking directly to the visitors. You've seen them, the only thing that stops them is fire and decapitation.
Do they attack in the daylight? Gabrielle questioned.
No, we managed to hold onto one that attacked the village one night. We managed to chain her down. When the sun came and hit her body she screamed and burst into flame and exploded into dust, Otere answered.
Did you recognize her? Xena asked softly.
Otere dropped her head as tears began flowing down her cheeks. Yes, it was my mate.
Oh sweet Artemis, Gabrielle muttered and got up from the bench and around the table to hug the young Amazon, wrapping her arms around Otere as the young woman began to cry. The bard looked over at her mate. How did you know?
When we fought the vampiir I ripped a necklace off one of them, it was an Amazon necklace, Xena explained. The vampiirs are turning the Amazons into vampires, that's how it spreads.
Yes, Otere agreed, raising her head slowly. No one has seen Mattita or the rebel Amazons but we assume they fell to the vampiirs and are among those stalking us.
What about the villagers? Pony questioned.
Among the vampiirs, we've seen some men and children as well as women, one of the Amazon scouts answered in the Germanic language common to the Greeks and Northern Amazons. Very few had learned the native Slavic language so out of courtesy the Northern Amazons spoke Germanic around Xena, Gabrielle and the others.
Oh gods, Hallvor muttered. Usually the vampiir just take adults.
How do we fight them? Gabrielle asked. It's coming up on winter when the sun rarely makes an appearance.
Yes, we are not in good shape, Otere agreed. We haven't been able to hunt enough game, most of it was either taken by the vampiir or driven away. We can't send out hunting parties that would be gone overnight and the nearby villages were destroyed.
If we don't get some supplies in it'll be a lean winter, Treje commented.
I have a question, Xena stated and waited until Otere looked up. Where is Yakut?
Xena's sinking feeling grew worse when Otere dropped her eyes again.
She disappeared when the vampiir first struck us, the Queen answered softly.
Xena looked up at her mate to see Gabrielle with her hands on Otere's shoulders with her eyes closed, fighting back tears.
So we might be fighting Yakut as a vampire? the warrior questioned.
Yes, Otere whispered.
Otere jumped visibly when Xena's hand slammed down on the table in anger. Gabrielle walked around and sat back down next to her mate and leaned her head on the warrior's shoulder. The bard wrapped an arm around the bard, trying to comfort the warrior.
After a moment Xena looked around and realized that most of the Amazons seemed to be waiting to see if the Greeks had any answers. She remembered with shame that most of them had grown up with only a couple of leaders barely older than themselves. Xena had killed the elders that day among the trees, leaving children and a couple of teens to lead and rebuild the Northern Amazons.
Alright, let's start thinking this thing out, she ordered and Gabrielle sat up with her eyebrows raised. She could feel the energy building in her mate and almost smiled.
One thing about Xena, she always enjoyed a challenging fight.
Let's clear the tables, get out the maps and figure how to fight, track and kill these things, she ordered and young Amazons quickly scrambled to obey her.
Otere looked over with a grateful expression.
Thank you, I've been a little out of it since my mate died, she commented.
It's alright, Xena smiled as she stood up. When we thought Gabrielle was dead for five days, I wasn't much use to anyone either.
Gabrielle felt herself blushing and smacked Xena on the leg as the warrior started to move away from the table with their dishes. That had only been the partial truth, the bard reflected. She had been dead for those five days, having given up her life willingly to save Xena.
Okay, first and foremost, what do we know about these creatures? Gabrielle asked as a small group of Amazons and her Consort sat down around the meeting hall's firepit.
They drink blood to survive, they can live on animal blood but prefer human, Svetlana answered.
Yes, how often do they need the blood, do we know that? the bard and queen questioned.
Young ones seem to need it every other night, there are tales of older vampires needing it only once a week, Hallvor responded.
It is also said among your Viking people that they hate werserkers and berserkers, is that true? Treje asked from her chair near the fire.
Xena glanced over and found Hallvor blushing a bright red as the Viking stared into the fire.
Ja, it is true, she admitted. Something about the animal walkers drives the blood drinkers crazy. They'll leave easy prey to attack a skin-shirt.
That's just myth! one of the Amazons complained. Berserkers and werserkers don't even exist!
Both Xena and Gabrielle glanced over at Hallvor to gauge her reaction. Eponin decided to keep quiet and see how this developed.
Hallvor seemed deep in thought for a moment and then raised her eyes to look at the young Amazon scout and then at the Northern Amazons around the fire.
I am a Viking warrior, dedicated to AllFather Odin, Hallvor said softly, her eyes shining with intensity. I am also a werserker, the wolf is my totem, my skin and my other self. We do exist.
Natalka, the young Amazon began blushing at being countered and glared at Hallvor, trying to judge the Viking's statement.
Full wolf? she demanded.
No, partial wolf, Hallvor answered. I fall to blood lust, turn into a partial wolf and rip apart anything in my way. Want to see my fangs? the Viking challenged.
Enough! Xena snapped. We've got enough problems without arguing among ourselves.
Hallvor is a werserker, the four of us have seen her in full werserker form and it is deadly, Gabrielle responded. We also saw the vampiir change targets from all of us to attack her when she changed last night. The myths are in fact truth.
Next? Xena suggested.
Okay, that might help or not, Otere commented, dismissing the strangeness of their Amazon guest and returning to the topic at hand. Sunlight kills them, so does decapitation.
I've heard running water can but I'm not sure I trust that one, Hallvor commented.
Me either, besides, the water would be too cold for us to lure them into without getting ourselves killed, Xena mentioned looking over the maps of the area.
Since sunlight kills them, why not track them during the day? Pony suggested.
Yes, exactly, Xena grinned but Otere shook her head.
We've tried it, we lose their tracks in the trees and several tracking parties never came back, the Queen explained.
They weren't Xena, Gabrielle grinned, knowing her mate's reputation for tracking and stealth.
Some of them seem to have mental powers, one Amazon mentioned and the Greeks turned to her with questioning expressions. I an Yulya, village guard. Some of them can just call our Amazons to them and their fangs.
Otere nodded sadly. Yes, we've watched some of our sisters drop their weapons and walk right to the vampiir.
Were the victim and vampiir close before the one turned into a vampire? Gabrielle questioned.
Yes, usually best friends, family or mates, Treja answered.
The bard nodded slightly. The bacchae of our lands tend to first seek out their family and friends when they turn into bacchae.
Bacchae? one of the Amazons questioned.
A form of Greek vampiir, a little different but they still drink blood, the bard responded.
Okay, I suggest that hunting parties go out at night and make a ring of fires around the camp, that seemed to keep the damned things out of our camp last night, Xena offered.
I'll ask for volunteers, Otere nodded.
I'm going to try and track these things back to their nest, if we know where they sleep during the day maybe we can burn them out or kill them a little easier, Xena added.
I suggest that Pony take a wagon, a couple of Amazons and head for the next village over and trade for supplies, Gabrielle suggested. Stay in the wagon at night with a fire ring around you.
You're just sending me because of my leg, Pony complained.
Yes, also the vampiir can't seduce you because none of them know you and they'll probably be speaking Slavic, Gabrielle smirked.
Yes, my Queen, Eponin grinned at the bard's logic.
Alright, sisters, Otere stood up. You heard the suggestions, consider them orders. I want six Amazons to accompany Eponin for supplies. Arm yourselves well with oil for fires and torches and carry extra axes and swords to decapitate these things if you're attacked.
She turned to Svetlana, the Scout Captain. Gather a group of your best trackers, try and pick Amazons with no one lost to the vampiir. Go hunting for fresh meat but be back here within three days. Carry extra axes and always build a large fire ring at night.
How have you kept the vampires from the cattle and pigs? Gabrielle asked.
We bring them in with us at night, Otere grinned. We've got enough walking on the hoof around to get through a couple of months but we need more.
Why don't they knock down the doors and attack at night? Pony questioned.
Some kind of strange magic, Treje answered. They can't come in a home unless someone inside invites them.
Very weird, Pony agreed.
The spirits of the threshold protect us and hold them back, an Amazon responded.
That's the only reason we've survived so far, Otere commented. We gather at night in the food hall and play drums, rattles, flutes, whatever will make noise to drown out their calls.
Gabrielle looked over and knew the look on her warrior mate's face, Xena meant to go out that night after the creatures.
Alright, let's get moving and get ready for nightfall, the warrior suggested. The days are getting shorter already.
The Amazons scurried around the village, happy to have goals and something to do after more than a month of terror. Gabrielle wasn't sure how much help her small group could be but her Northern sisters were looking to the Greeks for new ideas and suggestions. Fortunately, she thought, Xena was usually up to that task.
Xena looked over the village common area and spotted Gabrielle watching the scouts forming up and grinned. Even after years together, just looking at her mate could make Xena's heart skip a beat. The bard was looking serious as everyone went about their tasks and the warrior could understand that. The small band of Greeks had very few choices and they needed to be made quickly.
The first real winter storm was on its way, everyone could feel the pressure in the air changing and they knew if they stayed more than a week with the Northern Amazons then they were probably going to end up staying the entire winter. Facing a winter fighting off vampiirs and possible starvation was not Xena's idea of a good time.
They needed to resolve the crisis and soon.
Basics: shelter, food, protection. All of that was in danger.
Xena grabbed one of the village keepers and set up another group of Amazons to start gathering more wood for the winter. If they were going to have to hold off vampires then they would need more fires to keep everyone safe.
Xena turned her attention to the scouts forming up for the hunting party. She started towards Svetlana as the hunters moved out into the woods with their heavy backpacks of supplies.
She nodded slightly as Otere joined her.
Aren't you one of the best trackers? Xena asked as they approached Svetlana. The warrior was confused when the Scout Captain dropped her eyes and began blushing.
She is but she can't go out of the village, Otere answered.
Why not? Xena asked.
She was bitten by a friend a few nights ago, Otere said softly and Svetlana pulled back her hair to reveal the fang marks and dropped her eyes again. Ever since then the vampire has had control over her at night. We have to lock her in the cell to keep Svetlana from going to the vampire.
I wake up in the morning and don't remember trying to get out, just that I had bad dreams, Svetlana explained.
Once bitten they control you? Xena questioned and saw Gabrielle's ears pick up as the bard joined them.
Yes, at night they call and the victim can't resist and will fight to go to them, even if it means their death, Otere continued.
The victims don't turn into vampiir within a day? the bard questioned.
No, if the vampiir drains them slowly it can take two weeks, Svetlana answered.
Sometimes they kill their victims right away and feed them their vampire blood, turning them, Otere continued.
They exchange blood? Gabrielle questioned. That's different than bacchae, she muttered.
How so? Otere questioned, knowing Gabrielle's past.
You can be a partial bacchae and change other women into partial bacchae but there's still a chance to be saved. If you drink some of the blood of Bacchus, the bacchae god, then there's no chance and the women are full bacchae. The bard explained.
It seems that these vampiir must exchange blood with the victim to turn them, Otere commented. Or when the victim dies they become vampiir.
If the vampiir is killed before the victim dies or is turned? Xena questioned.
Then the victim is saved, Svetlana said, rubbing her neck where the fang marks were hidden by her hair.
How many times have you been bitten? Gabrielle asked gently.
Twice, only a few more times and I'm lost to the darkness, the Amazon Captain whispered.
Don't worry, Svetlana, Gabrielle said firmly. We have a talent for getting people out of the darkness.
Xena grinned at her mate's strong voice, she knew Gabrielle wasn't revealing her bacchae nature to the Amazons at this point and why. Dealing with one set of vampires was making the Amazons paranoid and skittish enough without trying to explain that Gabrielle was only a partial bacchae and drank Xena's blood once a month. Some terrified Amazon might decide it wasn't worth the risk and try to kill her mate.
Xena blinked and looked up as Gabrielle snapped her fingers in front of the warrior's face.
Reality to Xena! Gabrielle teased. Let's lay you down for a bit, the bard suggested. I know we didn't sleep last night and you're planning on being up all night again. Sasha's already napping with some of the younger kids.
The warrior didn't protest as the bard took her hand and led her to one of the huts. Within minutes they were curled up on sleeping furs, Xena behind her mate with arm and leg thrown over the bard.
It seemed like they had just closed their eyes when someone was knocking on the door and calling for them. Gabrielle muttered in her sleep and pulled the sleeping fur up over their heads with a growl.
Xena grinned and pulled it back down.
What is it? she called.
Sunset in a candle-mark, Queen Otere is asking for you, a voice called back.
Thank you, we'll be there in a few minutes.
Yes, Consort, the voice responded and Xena's sharp ears heard the guard leaving and bent over Gabrielle's body. She began lightly kissing the bard's lips and then moving to the lovely neck and then couldn't resist nibbling on the bard's earlobe.
Gabrielle responded with a purr of delight and wrapped her arms around her mate, green eyes opening to look into blue ones.
Hi, she said simply and met Xena's lips for another kiss.
We need to get up, Xena said after a few moments.
Wake me up like that and you want to get up? Gabrielle teased but released her hold from Xena's neck and the warrior sat up on the furs.
Yeah, Otere wants us, Xena grinned, wishing she could stay the rest of the afternoon and night in bed with her mate. Would be nice to have some privacy though.
She was pleased when the bard blushed but nodded in agreement. The one major different between the Greeks and Vikings, the bard thought, was their sleeping arrangements. The Vikings prefer a long hall with everyone sleeping along the walls on sleeping benches and occasionally a bed. No rooms except for the head of the family. Gabrielle knew most young couples would sneak off to barns, woods, meadows or wherever they could to find privacy and others just learned to make very little noise under the sleeping furs.
The Greeks didn't mind sharing their space with others but definitely wanted privacy at times. Xena often teased Gabrielle that the little bard couldn't keep quiet during love making even if it meant their lives. Gabrielle always countered that Xena could rattle a few rafters herself, usually getting a blushing warrior on her hands for that one.
Gabrielle grinned and grabbed for her tunic anyway.
Later, my love, she promised.
Gods, I hope so, Xena said softly, watching her mate dress, absently reaching for her own clothes. You know I'm going out tonight.
I know, the bard responded, losing her smile but continuing to lace up her boots. I'd argue with you but I'd lose, so I'm not going to bother.
And you're not going to follow me, right? Xena growled.
Years ago I probably would but Otere and the others need me here, Gabrielle smiled ruefully at her mate. Can you feel it? It's like they're teenagers left on their own.
They were, Otere wasn't even Sasha's age when I slaughtered the elders of the village, Xena commented, looking away from Gabrielle's gaze. Most of them were on their own as Amazons. They're looking to you for leadership.
They've forgiven you for that, Xena. Right now they're tired, frazzled, and scared, the bard commented. Do you really think you can track the vampiir? Can't they fly like bacchae?
I don't know, but I have to try," Xena growled.
As the sun sank lower in the sky, so did the spirits of the Amazons. Xena joined Gabrielle as she sat talking with Otere and Hallvor by the main fire in the food hall. The Greek was dressed as she normally was in the North in leathers with one addition that Gabrielle nodded in approval over, a leather collar around her neck over the bandage covering the slashes.
Would be difficult to bite through, the bard thought with a smile and noticed Otere's grin as well.
As they talked over the previous attacks two guards approached the small group next to them. Both Xena and Gabrielle raised their heads in curiosity.
Svetlana, one of them said. It's time.
What's going on? Gabrielle asked Otere.
It's time to lock her in the holding hut, before darkness hits, Otere stated simply, the sadness reflecting in her eyes.
Can't she stay here, you and I could watch her, Gabrielle suggested.
We can keep those creatures out only because no one has invited them into the hall, Otere explained as Svetlana stood up and followed the guards. All it would take is one person to invite them in and it would be a slaughter.
Like a pack of wolves, Xena commented.
It's going to be dark enough in a few minutes, Otere mentioned.
I'm going to go out in the trees and wait, I'll see if I can follow them, Xena declared, standing up.
Gabrielle stood up and quickly hugged her mate, biting back all the arguments she wanted to launch into.
The warrior looked down into her mate's green eyes and smiled.
I love you, little one, she whispered.
I love you, my warrior, Gabrielle whispered back and turned as Xena slipped out the door. The bard bit back her tears and worry. What do we do now? she asked.
Fires are lit outside and everyone huddles inside. We try and keep up noise most of the night to drown out the sounds of the vampiir outside. Otere explained.
Does not sound like fun, Gabrielle muttered.
It isn't, Otere admitted.
A few moments later a young Amazon child yelped in fear as pounding began on the door, the shuttered windows and the walls themselves. A moment later and the pounding continued on the roof, surrounding the women inside with terrible banging.
Otere raised her hand and the Amazons began banging on the tables in front of them as some of them passed out drums, clappers, flutes and such. The noise the Amazons made was rhythmic while the pounding surrounding them was sporadic and manic. At the sound of the banging and flutes the creatures outside began to screech like night owls.
Gabrielle badly wanted to cover her ears and she noticed Hallvor wincing at the incredible sound. The bard wondered how any of them had stayed sane night after night of this. Otere looked over at her sister Queen and nodded, understanding what the bard was thinking.
Any other solution than this? Gabrielle yelled over the noise.
None that have worked. They settle down after about two candle-marks and get loud again before dawn, Otere shouted back.
Oh gods, the bard muttered and saw Hallvor slide under a table with her cloak thrown over her, trying to cover her ears.
The night was long and endless. Just when it seemed that everything had settled down and most of the Amazons were lulled into sleep from exhaustion, the banging and screeching would start again.
To the bard it sounded like four giants on each side of them, kicking the walls and pounding on the roof. Dust scattered from the rafters and pegs began creaking in the walls under the constant pressure of the violence.
The Amazons also showed signs of breaking under the pressure. Women huddled in small groups, trying to keep each other calm. Holding the ones who would snap and start crying or shouting, restraining them if necessary.
Gabrielle, who was part bacchae and had spent an evening among bacchae, had heard nothing like this before. The screams coming from the outside were enough to drive anyone mad.
Then the worst of it came just before dawn. The pounding, screaming and screeching stopped for a quarter of a candle-mark. Then someone knocked on the door and a female voice called out for Katja to open the door.
Otere quickly jumped up from the furs she was sitting on and began running down the length of the hall with Gabrielle right behind her.
The bard spotted an Amazon near the door with her head raised up and a shocked expression on her face. The Amazons around her were talking rapidly but the young woman shook her head and continued to listen to the voice on the other side of the door.
She fought to stand up while her friends kept her sitting on the furs. Otere ran up as others joined the friends in restraining the young woman.
The voice outside sounded weak and cold and very human. Gabrielle herself felt a tugging to open the door and almost took a step forward when Otere called out for her to stop and help with the young woman.
That's Tata! the girl Katja screamed, I know her voice! She's alive! Let her in!
No! Otere yelled back, You know we can't open that door until dawn!
But she's cold, let her in! Katja protested. Tata ..
One of the Amazons quickly shoved a piece of cloth in the girl's mouth and another wrapped a gag around her head as the others restrained her.
Otere turned to a troubled Gabrielle. That's how they got into the villagers homes, all it takes is one person to invite them in.
How did you figure it out? Gabrielle asked as the young girl screamed for her sister through the gag.
We found a couple of the villagers alive but dying. They managed to tell us what they went through when the vampires seized the village, the Queen explained.
We can't keep this up all winter, everyone will go mad and someone will eventually open that door, Gabrielle complained.
I know, we need to figure out how to defeat them or flee, Otere commented.
They'd pick us off on the road at night and merely follow, like wolves following a herd of reindeer, one of the other Amazons complained.
She's right, Gabrielle nodded in agreement. She realized that the voice at the door had stopped and looked around; the other Amazons were rising from their furs on the floor or their seats on the benches and beginning to stretch and look around. It's dawn, isn't it? she asked.
Yes, a few will stay on guard but most of us will sleep for a few hours, Otere said simply. We take shifts sleeping during the day because we don't get much sleep at night.
Xena says the first mistake a warrior can make is not eating or sleeping, Gabrielle muttered.
Yes, and you can see why none of us are sleeping long hours and the nights are getting longer.
Oh gods, we need to settle this quickly, the bard muttered.
The bard found Sasha in tears with the other children, who weren't in much better shape. Gabrielle gathered the child up on her feet and wrapped a blanket around her. In a few moments they were snuggled down in a bed in the hut assigned to Xena, Gabrielle and Sasha.
I know, Sash, Gabrielle said gently as the child cried tired tears until she fell asleep. The bard closed her eyes after saying a silent prayer that Xena was alright.
Gabrielle woke up and sighed with relief when she realized that she was being held from behind by familiar strong arms. Sasha was already up and gone somewhere and the smoke hole at the top of the roof told the bard it was still daylight.
Deciding to let the warrior sleep a little longer, the bard wandered over to the meeting hall and found Otere barely awake herself.
Xena still sleeping? the Northern Queen asked.
Yes, when did she get in?
About two candle-marks ago, she said she lost the vampiir among the rocks to the east, Otere answered simply. She said she'd go out again tonight until we track them.
Gods, that is so dangerous, the bard muttered, sitting down by the fire.
Yes, but so is everything around here right now. Let's get something to eat, Otere suggested.
Okay, the bard agreed, getting back on her feet. I feel helpless against these things. Are any of them intelligent, can they be reasoned with?
Can your bacchae be reasoned with? Otere countered. They are intelligent but very focused on only one thing, getting blood.
The bacchae won't listen to reason either, especially when just turned, Gabrielle muttered. The older bacchae can interact normally with everyone else but are at Bacchus' call and they need blood to survive.
Maybe the older vampiir grow in mental clarity but I don't think we can wait around to reason with them, Otere complained.
I know, I don't know how all of you have managed after going through it last night, Gabrielle admitted.
After a decent breakfast Gabrielle checked in on Xena. She found the warrior sleeping restlessly. The bard crawled into the sleeping furs and the warrior calmed down into a deeper sleep as Gabrielle took her into her arms.
That night was a repeat of the night before, this time Hallvor choosing to stay in the isolation hut away from the other Amazons during the night. Otere had frowned but Gabrielle and Xena had supported the Viking Amazon's decision. The night had been rough on the wereling and she had struggled with the noise, the heightened fear of the Northern Amazons around her and the thick hatred of the vampiir seeping through the walls for anything that moved with blood in it.
Xena felt her muscles tensing up as she escorted Hallvor to the isolation hut. It was a unique fixture in the Amazon village, made of very thick stone and the only windows were high set in the walls. They were also so narrow and small that a child couldn't squeeze through. The door was of thick wood and could only be opened from the outside.
It was meant to keep Amazons calm and safe if someone went a little insane from cabin fever in the deep winter. Months spent indoors day after day with no hint of the sun shining through was enough to drive even the most sane person a little off at times. The Northern Amazons had a law that anyone who was hit with the snow fever could be held against their will until they were recovered or Spring came.
It was the same law that Mattita had intended to use to hold Gabrielle and Sasha hostage in the village while Xena, Solan and Reija were exiled.
Xena hated to see Hallvor locked away alone for the night but knew it was probably the best decision. There wouldn't be any guards outside because of the attacks and Hallvor would be totally alone. Both warriors were hoping that the lock on the door would hold and keep one battle crazed werewolf inside and all the blood crazed vampiirs outside.
Hall, Xena began to speak but the werserker held up her hand, cutting the warrior off.
It's okay, the werserker reassured the warrior. I had a hard time not changing last night. If I change in here, no one gets hurt.
I know, I just hate this, Xena grumbled.
Go, it's getting dark, Hallvor insisted and shut the door on the warrior.
Xena was frowning as she turned away from the hut, after locking the door. She absently handed the key to one of the guards, knowing the Amazon would open the door in the morning after sunrise.
The warrior looked at the sky and knew they only had a few days before the first real storm hit. Already the ground was already lightly covered with snow. Xena cursed under her breath as she kicked at a rock sticking out of the snow. It should be easy to track something in the snow but she had still managed to lose the band of vampires the night before. She was also more tired than she was admitting to anyone. So tired that she was actually fuzzy about the events here the night before.
Xena remembered tracking the vampiir once they left harassing the village and had gotten as far as the rocky terrain to the east and then lost the tracks but still heard the vampires calling and hunting. The warrior next remembered resting among the rocks, feeling tired and weak.
Xena grinned at the sight of Gabrielle sitting next to Otere at the food hall. She didn't have long before the vampiir would return and she wanted a couple of minutes with her mate.
Gabrielle caught Xena's smile and grinned in return. The bard leaned her head on Xena's shoulder as the warrior sat down next to her on the bench.
I have an idea, the warrior stated as she reached for a mug of ale sitting on the table.
I'd welcome most any idea about anything, Otere stated, her voice reflecting her weariness.
These creatures hate fire, how about setting up archers on the roof and around the food hall and shoot fire arrows at anything that moves, Xena suggested. Might keep them away from the hall and let everyone get some sleep.
That might work, one archer and one warrior with an axe or sword to protect both of them if the vampires get past the arrows, Otere said thoughtfully and quickly rose to set it up for the next night.
Gabrielle sighed, I don't know how they've managed to get through all these nights, I almost went crazy after only one night.
I know, I heard them while I was in the trees, the warrior commented, wrapping an arm around her bard. I've got to go soon.
I know. Did you get close? the bard asked.
Maybe, I'm going to circle around and wait for them where I lost them last night and see if I can track them further this time, Xena answered, Maybe even back to their lair after the sun rises.
Just be careful, okay?
You bet, little one, the warrior grinned.
Gabrielle rubbed her eyes as dawn finally made its appearance in the sky and the vampires were gone along with their screeching and howling. The bard looked around the food hall and wasn't surprised to see everyone was frazzled almost to the breaking point.
She had only been with them four days and nights now; they had been going through this for over a month.
The bard walked up to Eponin and smiled at her Regent.
"Gods, Gabrielle," Pony grimaced as she stood up. "How in Tartarus can you stand that night after night? I thought it was bad on the road when we were getting those supplies."
"I'm glad you're back," Gabrielle said simply. "It's not fun but we don't have any choice. Have you seen Queen Otere?"
"She was over by the north end fire pit, last I saw her," Pony smiled.
"Did you get a good stock of supplies?"
"Yes, they were more than willing to do business since the other two villages haven't been around to trade," Pony lost her smile. "We didn't tell them why the villagers wouldn't be needing supplies from them."
"Probably best, they might panic," the bard agreed. "The vampires haven't hit that far?"
"No, not a sign of them outside a day's range," the Amazon weapons-master answered.
"That means they're staying local and their lair is nearby," Gabrielle said thoughtfully.
"Then why hasn't Xena been able to find it?"
"Good question," the bard muttered and moved off to find Otere.
The bard found Otere asleep on a bench near the fire and lightly shook the other Queen awake. Otere rubbed her eyes and sat up blinking, trying to focus her eyes and mind together.
"Sorry to wake you but I need some help," Gabrielle stated as she sat down on the bench next to the other Amazon. "Take me to the sacred grove," she said softly.
"We can't go there, only Yakut can enter the grove," Otere hissed back softly.
"Yakut's not here and Xena is exhausted," Gabrielle reasoned.
Otere frowned and then nodded. "Meet you in the sauna in a quarter mark."
The bard nodded and went to the hut assigned to Xena, Sasha and Gabrielle and frowned as she realized that Xena wasn't back yet. It seemed to take longer and longer each day past dawn for the exhausted warrior to return. Xena wouldn't say much but would just shake her head that she hadn't found the vampire's lair and then crawl into bed.
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes and grabbed some clean clothes.
Gabrielle had been in a trance for more than a half candle-mark and Otere had been keeping the steady beat on a shamans' drum. Offerings of fresh flowers and spring water stood on the stone that acted as an altar in the small clearing in the forest.
Otere had been in the clearing before with Yakut and always the shaman had lead the small group of Amazons in their workings, now she and Gabrielle were working
from memory, instinct, and luck.
The Amazon Queen of the North closed her eyes and kept drumming and chanting lightly, not wanting to lose her concentration. She had seen the movement of
trees but didn't want to drop the beat and break Gabrielle's concentration.
The bard kept her eyes closed as she swayed and chanted, even when she felt the light touch on her hair and then on her arm. She was attempting to contact nature spirits and they could be startled easily, at least she knew the Greek ones could.
Gabrielle opened her eyes slowly and smiled gently at the figure in front of her, the bard's face showing no surprise even though inside her heart was pounding wildly.
The figure was a young girl squatting in front of the bard and lightly touching her clothes and hair with an air of curiosity. The figure had green skin with patches that shifted depending on whatever background she was against, like a lizard. Her hair was wild and standing in every direction, black and filled with leaves and twigs and her eyes were brown and cat shaped. Gabrielle took in the fact that the girl's loin-cloth seemed to be made of moss and she wore nothing else.
Gabrielle saw movement to her left and shifted her eyes only slightly and saw a man emerge from the trunk of a tree. At least that's what it looked like. It appeared that his skin was bark, then shifted to leaves and then grasses as he approached the bard and
squatted down next to the girl. The bard kept her smile simple, honest and open. With the little training she had from Xena and Yakut, she knew to keep her thoughts open and calm and to show no fear.
The man had a dark beard, his reddish hair under a hat of fir tree branches and a long cloak and loin-cloth made of moss. His skin was the same basic green as the girl's.
Then another movement caught the bard's eyes and two more figures came into sight. A woman about the man's age and a teenage boy.
Gabrielle knew the Family deities of the Forest had answered her call. Now the question would be whether they would listen and then if they would help.
"I am Tapio, my wife Mielikki, daughter Tuulikki and son Nyrrikki," Tapio stated. "You have honored us with offerings of sweet scent and pure water, stranger
to the north."
"And you honor me with your names, great Tapio," Gabrielle responded. The bard knew that the deities, even minor ones, could be very protective of their names. Many of them thought that a person's very name contained power and it could be caught and used by someone else.
The man grinned and sat down cross-legged in front of the bard and the rest of the family followed.
"You are not the usual human that approaches us," he stated.
"No, she has disappeared after the dark women came to the land," Gabrielle responded.
"Yes, the upirs," the woman, Mielikki, stated. "They hurt the land. They drive away the game and upset the balance of the land and nature."
"Yes, great Mielikki," Gabrielle agreed.
"These umpir are not natural," Tuulikki added. "The origin of their strain is not of the natural order."
"Can you explain a little more clearly, young one?" Gabrielle asked.
"Umpirs are natural creatures, part of the darkness that must balance the light," Mielikki answered for her daughter. "These creatures came into being because of evil, not because of nature."
"They are killing my people, can you help me in stopping them?" the bard questioned.
"Yes, we considered your request before showing ourselves," Tapio answered. From his cloak he pulled a sack and placed it in front of the bard. "Take those, they have been blessed by us and are of holy wood of the Ash, Hawthorne and other trees. Put it
through the creatures' hearts and break the spine, it ends their lives."
"Do they all have to die?" Gabrielle asked with a sinking feeling, almost all of the vampires were Amazons who had been turned.
"No, but there isn't one strong enough to assume leadership and turn them from the dark path of murder," Mielikki commented. "One must be of the blood and only one can lead."
"They have a leader?" the bard asked with furrowed brows.
"Yes, the one who called on the dark side for power over her Amazon tribe. She gladly took on this darkness and spread it among your people," Tuulikki answered.
"Oh sweet Artemis, Mattita," Gabrielle muttered. It answered a lot of questions, including why the main target of the vampires were the Amazons. The power mad Law Speaker had brought this plague of evil down on her sisters voluntarily brought.
The bard raised her head and looked into the cat like eyes of the forest family. What do you mean, of the blood?
One touched by the darkness, one who needs blood, Tuulikki explained. But none of the upir can stand against the leader, she is the first of the strain and the strongest.
If someone were a upir or vampire but not from Mattita's fangs, they could challenge her? Gabrielle asked.
Yes, Tapio answered.
You have helped me, gracious spirit, the bard continued. How may I repay you?
Gabrielle held her breath, this was the tricky part. Lower deities could be quite mischievous and their price could be anything from wanting Gabrielle to stand on her head and singing to offering her life to them.
The forest gods wee quiet for a moment and seemed to be sharing their thoughts with each other. Then Tapio smiled.
We agree, he stated simply. Restoring the balance to the woods is enough for now. A future price will be asked later. It won't require anyone being hurt, agreed?
Gabrielle knew that she really didn't have a choice, if she refused, they'd probably take back the weapons and kill her and maybe even Otere.
I agree, Gabrielle agreed simply.
With a smile each disappeared back into the trees. The bard waited a moment and then stretched.
Okay, Otere, she said softly and the drumming beside her slowed and then stopped.
The Northern Amazon Queen slowly opened her eyes and looked over at the Southern Amazon Queen.
You intend to take on Mattita in a challenge? she whispered.
We don't have a choice, Gabrielle stated simply. They are like bacchae and can fly short distances, we'll never track them.
Then what has Xena being doing these nights? Otere frowned.
Being bitten, the bard said bitterly.
Xena? Wouldn't she have said something? Otere protested.
The victims don't know it, the bard explained as she stood up and stretched. She's getting weaker, she's gone longer each night and she can't remember most of the night.
Gabrielle, Otere said softly but the bard shook off the Amazon's sympathy.
We will kill Mattita and get Xena back, Gabrielle said firmly.
Otere stood up and started following the bard, the confusion evident on the young Queen's face. The bard hadn't explained how they were going to do that.
The warrior tried to focus as she sat up, something told her that it was close to dark and she needed to get moving. Stumbling back onto the sleeping fur, she frowned deeply. She felt as weak as a newborn puppy and she was puzzled how she had gotten this way. Xena knew that she couldn't get sick but she sure felt like it. She remembered tracking the vampires and then nothing.
Xena groaned, it felt like her boots had weights in them and her arms were mush.
The warrior tried a small smile as Gabrielle and Otere entered the hut but then something about her mate's body language took Xena's smile away and suddenly made her cautious.
Going out again tonight? Gabrielle questioned, standing near the door and not moving forward and hugging Xena as she normally would.
Xena's eyes narrowed slightly. Yeah, only option I can think of to stop these things.
How can you track them when they can fly short distances and one of them is feeding on you every night? Gabrielle demanded, her green eyes beginning to flash.
Xena felt her ears roaring and she sat heavily back onto the sleeping furs. She wanted to deny it; to demand what in Tartarus Gabrielle was talking about but something was tripping up her tongue. The warrior looked up at her mate with a confused expression.
Try and think through the fog, Xena, Gabrielle insisted. The best tracker in the known world can't track something close by? The vampires aren't attacking outside of a one-night travel range and you can't find them?
Xena looked down at her boots.
Remove your bandage, Xena, Gabrielle said softly.
What? the warrior questioned with a grimace.
Those gashes were deep but not that deep and with your rapid healing those should have been healed by now. Why the bandage? Gabrielle pressed, her voice becoming harsh with tenseness. Is that to cover the bite marks?
Xena felt her hands beginning to shake. Everything her mate was saying made sense but she still couldn't remember anything about the vampires, especially being bitten. What if Gabrielle was right and she was being bitten every night and controlled by the creatures?
When Xena looked up at the two Amazon Queens her blue eyes were scared and filled with tears.
Gabrielle . She began softly.
No, Xena, Gabrielle shook her head angrily. I know they've messed with your mind but I can't believe that much. You need someone else's fangs now?
The warrior felt her heart sinking and her fists clenching. She gritted her teeth in rage and she wanted to howl in despair.
What would you do if we tried to lock you up with Svetlana? Gabrielle asked.
Without thinking Xena grabbed the chakram from her belt.
Gabrielle didn't look surprised but merely nodded.
Go, Xena, just go, Gabrielle said sadly and moved away from the door. Otere followed her example and moved aside.
With a cry not unlike a wounded animal, Xena cried out and grabbed her cloak. The warrior dashed through the door and disappeared into the twilight.
The bard closed the door softly.
Gabrielle? Otere said softly. You didn't mean all of that, did you?
No, the bard admitted, tears filling her green eyes. But Xena's now distraught, she'll go straight to the vampire lair and we can track her.
May the gods prove you right, Otere said softly and took the Southern Amazon Queen into her arms as Gabrielle broke down crying.
It took the combined efforts of Hallvor's keen senses and the best scout the Amazons had to track the warrior when the sun came up but they finally managed a candle-mark before sunset.
Gabrielle, Otere and several Amazon scouts looked down over the small cliff, down into a clearing that led into a cave. They all frowned at the sight of three Amazons and two men obviously guarding the place.
Hallvor's sharp eyes pointed out the bite marks on their necks.
Then the vampires are controlling them, like they tried with Svetlana, Otere frowned.
Yes, and they'll fight to protect them while they sleep, Hallvor agreed.
I don't see Xena among them, Gabrielle frowned.
She's probably inside, either already turned or sleeping after the feeding, Hallvor commented bluntly, ignoring Otere's glare and Gabrielle's pained eyes.
Then we take out the guards, go inside, rescue Xena and torch the place, one of the scouts said simply.
Gabrielle and Otere looked at the sky and then each other. Otere shook her head, echoing the bard's thoughts.
We don't have time, Gabrielle commented. We'll be caught inside before we could kill all of them, even with fire.
Then what do we do? We'll be caught in the open before we can get back to the village, the scout questioned.
The only thing an Amazon can do, Gabrielle said cryptically.
I wish you could think of another way, Otere complained.
So do I, the bard agreed.
Otere turned to Hallvor and the scouts. I want Hallvor to lead you back to the river, cross over and wait on the other side. Build a fire ring to protect yourselves from any vampires. Hopefully, they'll be too busy with us.
With you? Hallvor demanded but Otere continued, ignoring the Viking Amazon.
If we don't come back shortly after dawn, return here, kill all the vampires and any victim too far gone to be saved. Decapitate them and burn the bodies, Otere ordered. Burn out the cave.
Yes, my Queen, the lead scout agreed.
Gabrielle, I'm not letting you go in there alone, Hallvor protested. Xena would kill me and so would Pony.
Otere is going in with me to stand as my sister and witness, the bard responded.
Witness? Hallvor questioned.
Just do it, Hallvor, the bard insisted. The vampires will sense you, the wolf inside. Take care of the scouts.
Yes, my Queen, Hallvor responded and led the scouts back the way they had come.
Otere turned to Gabrielle. Are you sure about this?
If we wait until dawn to attack them, Xena will be dead, Gabrielle said simply.
She might be dead already, Otere said softly.
No, the bard frowned. I would know if she were dead. Let's do this.
The two Amazon Queens moved down the hill, over the rocks and around the barren trees and approached the clearing in the open, walking confidently over the light snow.
They weren't surprised when the guards scrambled to rush at them with weapons drawn, moving slowly and stumbling over each other. Gabrielle and Otere noticed the dazed look in the eyes of the men and women approaching them.
Both Queens raised their hands and maintained their confident stances.
I am Gabrielle, Queen of the Southern Amazons and I claim right of challenge to your Vampire Queen Mattita, Gabrielle said firmly.
Xena opened her eyes slowly and groaned as her muscles protested even the thought of moving. Input from her senses started telling that she wasn't in the hut with Gabrielle.
Fragments of leaving Gabrielle started flashing across Xena's mind and she sat up with a moan. She frowned and tried to focus. In her immediate sight was the chains on her wrists leading to a large iron ring imbedded in the stone wall; beyond that was a cave. The warrior growled at the sight of several Amazons also chained to the walls around the large cave as well as a couple of men, survivors from the vampire attacks on the nearby villages. One of them was Yakut and she seemed unconscious.
Xena felt a chill run down her spine as vampires began to enter the cave from a darkened back area. The warrior felt a growl escape her throat as she recognized Mattita, the former Law Speaker of the Northern Amazons.
Mattita laughed around her fangs as Xena moved back as close to the cold stone wall as she could as the Vampire Queen approached her.
Beginning to remember, Xena?
The memories hit the warrior like a tidal wave. The night of the fight in the forest and one of the vampires sinking her fangs into Xena's neck. It was only for a moment but apparently enough to erase her memory of it and to render her helpless against them. The following nights of attempting to track the vampires only to fall to Mattita's fangs before dawn each time.
Xena's body shook with the memory of the fangs entering her neck and the eroticism that accompanied the bite. The warrior fought back the urge to be sick at the memory of Mattita's touch and bite.
Gabrielle, I'm sorry, the warrior whispered. Now she knew how Gabrielle could have been bitten by bacchae and not remember it and how she was helpless against the call of Bacchus.
Don't worry about it, Xena, Mattita laughed. You'll join us and then you can turn her. Won't that be my ultimate revenge against you? You'll either turn her or she'll kill you.
Xena growled and then whimpered slightly as the Vampire Queen bent towards her neck, fangs extending even longer.
Mattita! a shout stopped the vampire and caused both the vampire and Xena's heads to snap around towards the front of the cave.
Standing in front of several of the guards was Gabrielle and Otere. The Southern Amazon's green eyes were flashing angrily.
Ah, Gabrielle, Mattita purred and turned away from Xena to face the bard. Perfect! You can watch me feed from Xena again and turn her into one of us; then she can turn you.
I challenge you to the right of Queenship over the vampires, the bard said firmly, ignoring the vampire's taunts.
Nice try, human, Mattita grinned. You can only lead vampires if you are a vampire.
The Amazon Vampire turned towards the Warrior Princess again.
Mattita! I challenge you for right of Queenship, Gabrielle shouted again.
Xena couldn't help but grin slightly at the astonished face of the vampire when she looked back at the bard.
Gabrielle now had yellow eyes rimmed in red and her fangs were prominent and flashing.
I am a vampire and have been one longer than you, Mattita, Gabrielle growled. I challenge you.
Mattita's brown eyes flashed angrily and she clenched her fists tightly. You can't be vampire! she protested. You walk in the sun and don't drink blood!
But I am and that just shows that I'm stronger than you, Gabrielle smiled, her yellow eyes dancing. I do drink blood, animal and human. I just don't kill humans for it.
Then you are weak, not strong, Mattita grinned and ran a long claw-like fingernail across Xena's chest, leaving a red streak beginning to well up with blood. Gabrielle resisted licking her lips at the sight of blood, especially Xena's blood.
You cannot refuse the challenge, Queen Mattita, one of the Amazon vampires stated.
I accept, battle to the death, Mattita growled. Now.
Excellent, Gabrielle grinned a grim smile that worried Otere. The Northern Amazon Queen found it disturbing when she glanced at the bard to see the yellow eyes and fangs. You have choice of weapons.
I don't need weapons but you can have your choice, Mattita smirked.
I'll take my sais, Gabrielle pulled the weapons into her hands, the handles in her hands and the long prongs along the inside of her arms.
Gabrielle! No! Xena yelled, suddenly struggling against her chains. Your sais can't hurt her!
I'm comfortable with these, the bard said in a stubborn voice.
Good, then both Amazon queens can fall to my fangs in one night! Mattita growled and then screamed as she launched herself across the small space, straight for the bard.
Gabrielle rolled over backwards, letting Mattita fly right over her. The bard snapped her arm up and smashed the blunt end of her sai against Mattita's jaw. Gabrielle flipped up to her feet and bared her teeth as Mattita landed and spun to face her.
The bard quickly discovered that, while she may have been vampiric longer, Mattita had more experience at using the vampiric abilities. Gabrielle was only part bacchae and without the power of flight.
Mattita again launched herself with her claws extended.
Xena struggled against her chains, she always hated feeling helpless and this was the worst. She had let Gabrielle and the Amazons down and now Gabrielle was fighting for all their lives and Xena couldn't help. She screamed in frustration.
Gabrielle twisted to one side but not enough and hissed as Mattita's claws raked across her ribs. In turn the bard brought down her elbow hard into the small of Mattita's back as the vampire passed her, causing the Vampire Queen to smash into the stone floor. The bard attempted to jump onto Mattita's back but the Northern Amazon was faster and flipped over, catching Gabrielle's wrists with her hands. Gabrielle screamed in anger as Mattita flipped her over, the bard landing hard on the stone.
Both Amazons leaped to the feet but Mattita was faster and flipped over Gabrielle and grabbed the bard from behind.
Both Otere and Xena screamed as Mattita sank her fangs into Gabrielle's neck.
No! Gabrielle! Xena felt her wrists becoming bloody from fighting against the chains and struggled even harder.
Gabrielle, now! Otere shouted.
The bard's head began to drop forward but she seemed to struggle. Gabrielle felt her body giving over and shouted at herself. She felt an answering growl and she lifted both hands up with her sais and thrust them backwards.
Mattita released her hold on the bard and Gabrielle dropped forward onto her knees. After a moment she turned and looked at the Vampire Queen as Mattita struggled to comprehend the wooden objects sticking out of her ribs.
Something you didn't know about vampires, Mattita, Gabrielle said as she stood up, unsteady on her feet. You're strain of vampirism isn't natural and can be destroyed by natural wood. These were made for me by the spirits of the forest.
The bard walked up to the Vampire Queen as Mattita fell to her knees, still trying to remove the sais. Gabrielle grabbed one of them and yanked it out roughly, sending Mattita falling backwards onto the floor. The Vampire Queen screamed as the bard grabbed her wrist and bit into it.
Gabrielle! Xena screamed in horror as the bard drank for a moment from the other vampire. Then Gabrielle shifted on her heels and thrust the wooden sai into the vampire's chest, through the heart and breaking the spine.
Mattita managed to scream once before turning to dust under the bard.
The bard hesitated a moment, trying to absorb the fact that part of the nightmare was over.
Gabrielle grabbed up the sais and turned to face the other vampires, her eyes still yellow and fangs plainly showing.
Xena resisted the urge to whimper at the sight of her beloved mate. Gabrielle didn't only have upper fangs as usual; this time she had the full set of Bacchae teeth, including two sets of lower fangs. The bard had let her full Bacchae blood come to the surface and Xena felt a twinge of fear and worry. She had never seen Gabrielle go this far before.
Queen Gabrielle has defeated Mattita and is now your Queen, Otere shouted.
The female vampires looked confused and then one of them went to a bended knee and the others followed.
As your Queen, Gabrielle began firmly, I order you to release the prisoners and your mental control over the guards.
But who will we feed on and who will guard us during the day? one of the vampires protested.
There is a peaceful way of doing things, Gabrielle's voice softened. Trust me and release them.
Two of the vampires rushed to obey their new Queen as Otere joined them, releasing the handful of prisoners, including Yakut and Xena. The warrior moved over to her bard slowly, as if gauging her and possibly seeing her in a new light as Otere rushed to take Yakut into her arms.
The bard's face softened and she touched the warrior's arm lovingly and Xena felt a surge of relief.
I'm sorry about earlier, Gabrielle said softly. We needed to follow you.
We'll talk about it later, okay? Why did you drink Mattita's blood?
A gesture of victory and supremacy. Unfortunately it was the only way I could think of right at that moment to show the other vampires their queen was truly defeated by another vampire, Gabrielle stated, unable to meet her mates' eyes.
It's okay, I understand, Xena said softly. What are you going to do with the vampires? the warrior questioned and they both looked over at Otere tending Yakut.
I have plans for them and no one gets hurt, Gabrielle smiled. Take Yakut and the others to the river, the Amazons are waiting for you.
Xena frowned and looked down at her mate. What about you?
I need to stay with them for a little bit, Gabrielle tried smiling a reassuring smile. I will meet you back at the Village tomorrow night, in the common ground. If things go right some of the vampires will be with me.
And if they don't go right? Xena whispered.
Then come back during the day and burn them out, the bard said simply.
Xena bit back any protests she might have. She knew either her mate would succeed or would die trying with whatever she had in mind. The warrior also knew arguing with her wife would be useless.
I'm sorry about Mattita, Xena said softly and was relieved when Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her.
I didn't mean what I said last night, Gabrielle responded softly. I knew you weren't aware of what was happening. I love you, Xena.
I love you, Little One, the warrior whispered.
Take Yakut and the others and go, please.
Don't you dare leave me, Gabrielle, Xena growled and quickly turned away and went over to help Otere pick up Yakut.
As the one time food source for the vampires hurried out of the cave, Gabrielle turned to her new Amazons, vampire Amazons.
The new Queen of the Vampires was trying not to show how nervous she was.
Xena was unapproachable the entire next day as she sharpened her sword, paced the common grounds and talked with Sasha, trying to reassure the child when the warrior wasn't too sure herself if Gabrielle was coming back .
The only one that managed to talk to the warrior was Otere and just long enough to tell Xena that Yakut and the others were recovering and awake. If they weren't bitten again they would be fine, Xena included.
The warrior nodded and continued sharpening her sword.
Xena had let Otere explain to the other Amazons what had happened in the cave with the vampires. She also left it to Otere to explain how Gabrielle was a vampire but not a vampire.
The warrior again cursed her weakness for giving into the vampire Mattita and for letting Gabrielle try whatever it was she was doing without her. She must have been insane to leave Gabrielle!
The warrior did manage to smile when Otere stepped out of the food hall with Yakut leaning on the Queen's arm for support. They approached the warrior slowly, Yakut blinking against the winter sun and still very weak.
It'll be dark soon, Otere commented.
Yes, how are you doing, Yakut?
Tired, but okay, the shaman responded. We need to talk about Mattita.
After Gabrielle gets back, Xena insisted.
Of course, Yakut smiled.
That's why Mattita took you immediately, you knew how to stop them, Xena realized.
Yes, and I know the cause of Mattita's seduction into the darkness, Yakut stated.
Gods, I hope Gabrielle has figured some of this out, Otere complained.
I think she's figured out some of it but not all of it, Xena commented.
They'll be here soon, come inside, Xena, Yakut urged.
Alright, Xena frowned and looked at the sun just setting down behind the trees. The warrior growled as they closed the doors, she hated not knowing if Gabrielle was alright or not.
The Amazons settled into an uneasy wait. They had no idea what to expect that night. Everyone knew Gabrielle was attempting something with the vampires and most didn't understand how the bard could be part vampire and part human and now Queen of the Vampire Amazons.
Xena knew a lot of them weren't sure whether they could trust the Southern Amazon or not.
It was two candle-marks before Gabrielle's voice sent the warrior flying for the door but discovered Otere blocking her way. The warrior's eyes narrowed and Otere hoped that this wasn't her last moment as she held the warrior back.
Wait a moment, Xena, she urged, Don't rush into a possible trap.
Xena growled but nodded and drew her chakram. Otere opened the door slowly and they looked out onto the common ground of the village. Torches had been placed around the village for light and protection and the bard was spotted easily with several of the vampire Amazons behind her.
Gabrielle held up the wooden sais and grinned at her mate.
I'm fine, everyone, she called. I ask for a meeting of the Elder Council.
Xena and the remaining leaders of the Northern Amazons slowly left the food hall and approached the bard and the vampires.
Xena and Svetlana's eyes constantly danced around, watchful of any figures that might come out of the dark. The warrior heard Svetlana gasp slightly and looked over at the Amazon Scout Captain. Svetlana's face was pained and Xena saw one of the vampires step forward slightly and then hesitate.
The Warrior Princess wanted to grab the bard up in her arms, especially now that Xena was thinking a little more clearly. She almost shook her head, wondering how in Tartarus she would have ever agreed to leave the bard in a den of vampires alone for a night and a day. Xena held back, letting Gabrielle control the situation.
Gabrielle felt a twinge of regret as the Northern Amazons approached cautiously, watching her carefully as well as the vampires. The bard could see in their eyes that they knew she was somewhat like the vampires who had been preying on them.
Did Otere explain what happened between myself and Mattita? Gabrielle questioned.
Yes, that you challenged her for rank of Queen and could do so because you're some kind of vampiir, one of the Elders stated.
Xena growled but Gabrielle merely nodded, Yes, it's true. I am partly what we call Bacchae, a type of Greek vampire. I have been for many years now.
So Alti just brought out the demon in you? another one demanded and Xena's growl was audible to everyone.
It's alright, Xena, Gabrielle said, holding up her hand. I am not possessed by demons but I do understand your fears, especially after what you've been through.
Otere said that you could end this nightmare, Treje stated.
I am now Queen of the Amazons who have become vampires and they will obey me. I have issued several commands that will end the nightmare for both sides, Gabrielle stated.
Then, Queen Gabrielle, Otere stated formally. I welcome you to our fires, let's discuss this.
The other Elders nodded and Gabrielle bowed slightly to Otere. Everyone then moved to sit around the main fire, the vampires sitting slightly behind Gabrielle and staring at their former sisters across the flames. Xena sitting next to her mate and Queen.
The male slaves have been released and given a wagon, they're heading for the nearest village. To end this between Amazons I propose that the two types work together, the bard began.
How can we work together when they prey on us? Danja, an Elder demanded.
"That will end, Gabrielle promised. By working together, both groups will benefit. I have ordered most of the vampires to scatter throughout the land, dispersing their impact on nature. Vampires will no longer kill humans for their blood and will only take blood from willing humans.
The vampires who leave the area, they'll obey this order? Treja asked.
They were originally Amazons of your tribe, they'll obey, Gabrielle reassured them.
What else? You said working together, Otere questioned.
The remaining vampires will work with the tribe as nightly protectors, in turn you give them the blood from the animals you hunt and slaughter, the bard explained.
You're asking us to house them and feed them? Yakut demanded.
Yes, in turn they will protect you, Gabrielle proposed.
How many? Otere asked.
As many or as few as you wish, the others will leave the area and those that remain will obey you as their Queen, the bard explained.
What about turning others into vampires? Yakut demanded, her voice tense.
Gabrielle understood the Shaman's anger. She had been one of those that the vampires had been feeding on for quite awhile, an existence of terror for anyone.
Only those who consent and with the approval of the Queen, either Otere or myself, Gabrielle stated.
And if we don't agree? Yakut asked.
Then the vampires will scatter and those who wanted to stay with their sisters or mates will be separated, Gabrielle stated.
You talk like they have feelings, Setka, a Scout leader snapped.
We do, one of the vampires surprised everyone by speaking. She had once been a young Amazon scout who had been one of the first to fall to Mattita's fangs. Mattita had us acting like predators, like wolves. Truth is that after the first few nights the hunger lessens and we begin remembering. We remember our families too.
Xena glanced over, she could feel the longing from Svetlana for her mate, a mate who was now a vampire and saw the same emotions on the young vampire's face.
I suggest that we put this to the entire tribe, Otere commented.
The Elders and other Amazons present nodded in agreement.
We will return with the tribe's answer in two candle-marks, Otere stated to Gabrielle.
Thank you, Queen Otere, Gabrielle said simply and watched as the Amazons headed back into the food hall.
Gabrielle tried to ignore the hostile looks from several of the Elders as they passed her and the vampires. It wouldn't be easy to get past the fear they had been feeling for endless days and nights.
As the door closed the bard turned and hugged her mate tightly.
Gods, I missed you, Xena, the bard whispered in the warrior's ear.
Back at you, little one, the warrior grinned and held the bard close. I don't know why I let you stay last night, I must have still been out of my head.
I know, Gabrielle grinned, glancing over to keep an eye on the vampires.
This has got to be one of the craziest ideas you've come up with, Gabrielle, Xena commented, also keeping an eye on the vampires.
I know but it seems to fit, the bard shrugged with a grin.
One of vampires approached the couple and bent on one knee. Queen Gabrielle, one of the scouts reports that they have brought down two deer, there's enough blood for everyone.
Excellent, Ke, the bard responded. Go ahead before the tribe returns. Feeding should take place away from the day tribe, it will make them uncomfortable to see it.
Yes, my Queen, the vampire Amazon scurried away to follow her new Queen's instructions.
Gabrielle looked at Xena's amused expression. What? she asked.
You're quite the leader, my bard, Xena commented and grinned when Gabrielle began blushing.
A very tired and relieved leader, Gabrielle muttered and leaned into Xena's arms.
You're alive and aren't about to turn into a vampire, I may have found a way to end this mess, and we can probably still get out of here before we're snowed in.
Don't want to stay the winter? Xena questioned.
You saw how they looked at me, Xena, Gabrielle stated sadly. They'll think of me differently now.
They'll adapt, it's not like you're a full vampire, Xena encouraged. It'll take time to adapt to having Amazon vampires around.
It will take months for that to happen. I want to take Hallvor and Eponin to the Black Forest and go home, Gabrielle said simply.
Alright, we can still get through with a sled and a good team of horses, Xena smiled.
Feeling safe and secure in her warrior's arms the bard closed her eyes while they waited. The sounds of shouting inside kept everyone outside on edge.
Gabrielle snuggled into Xena's arms closer to the fire, the other vampires didn't need to warm their bodies but the bard was still mostly human and felt the cold just as much as Xena did. She also needed the comfort of her mate's arms. The bard had been afraid of how Xena would see her after the fight with Mattita and she knew Xena was afraid of how Gabrielle would respond to her after being bitten by Mattita.
Both were feeling insecure. Both sighed contently when it was enough to snuggle together, words unnecessary. The fears fading away as they held each other.
Exactly two candle-marks later the Elders and some of the others came out of the hall. Gabrielle sat up as the Amazons sat down in their previous spots and the vampires gathering behind their new Queen once again.
Several of them looked unhappy but some looked curious about the vampires that were once their sisters and might be again.
Queen Gabrielle, Otere began, After much discussion, it has been decided to accept your proposal for peace and cooperation between the vampires and the Amazons.
Gabrielle was visibly relieved. Thank you, Queen Otere, she said softly, Then balance can be restored to the surrounding land and there will be peace between sisters.
This won't be easy, Otere cautioned. There was a lot of terror and pain, accepting them into our lives will be difficult.
I understand and so do most of them, Gabrielle responded. They're willing to work at gaining your trust and most are anxious to talk to their families and mates.
Otere frowned. For so long that meant seducing their mates into becoming vampires, can we trust their motives now? she demanded and Gabrielle winced at the sound of uneasy agreement from several Elders.
I suggest that the meetings take place in the village commons, within sight of everyone, Gabrielle offered. It will take time, we understand that.
Xena wasn't sure how she felt about the use of the word we when Gabrielle used it to describe the vampires. It made the warrior uncomfortable that the bard easily seemed to include herself among the vampires who had been terrorizing the Amazons.
It isn't finished, Gabrielle, Yakut spoke harshly. You were told by the forest spirits that Mattita was exposed to evil. That evil still exists.
Gabrielle frowned and she felt Xena stiffen beside her.
You know what it is?
Mattita worked dark magic and contacted the spirit world, she gave herself up willingly, Yakut answered. A vampire spirit turned her spirit into a vampire and a shaman's magic carried it over into her body in this realm.
Spirit realm? Xena repeated softly. Shaman?
Oh not again! Gabrielle exclaimed. Alti?
Yes, Yakut nodded.
Damn! Xena said simply.
continued in Blood Darkness
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