An Awakening - Part 22
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: Alti, Xena, vampires and Amazons. R rating for violence and sex. Torture, vampires, and non-consensual sex of a major character. Hurt and comfort alert. This one can get a little rough.
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 and Gabrielle, with the Northern Amazons, must face Alti, Spirit vampires and a major surprise appearance by an enemy of Gabrielle's.
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 whom.
A Visit Home, an Awakening 1 * Gabrielle's Awakening 1a- from Gabrielle's Point of View * An Awakening, Discovery, 2 * Gabrielle's Discovery 2a- Gabrielle's POV * Amazon Bonding, Awakening 3 * Gabrielle, Amazon Bonding 3a - Gabrielle's POV * 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
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.
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.
Xena was surprised to find Gabrielle pacing inside the practice hut. The bard was obviously upset.
It was the middle of the night and freezing outside. Xena had been concerned when she woke up and found her mate missing, especially when Gabrielle didn't return after a few minutes. Xena's stalking abilities hadn't been necessary to follow the bard's footsteps in the snow leading towards the practice hall.
It had been a difficult time for everyone. Answering the psychic call for help from Yakut had led Xena, Gabrielle, Sasha, Hallvor and Eponin to the Northern Amazons. Once near the village they had been attacked by vampires, Amazons who had been attacked.
It had taken time to defeat these turned Amazons and almost at the cost of Xena being turned into an umpiir herself. Gabrielle had finally ended the worst of the nightmare when she challenged Vampire Queen Matitta to the right of leadership over the vampires and won.
Now they were facing the source of that evil again. Alti, the dark shaman from Xena's past.
Gabrielle? the warrior said softly.
The bard turned to face her mate and Xena was even more surprised to see that Gabrielle's eyes were red and fighting back tears.
What is it, Little One? Xena asked softly as the bard accepted her strong arms in an embrace.
I don't know if I can face Alti again, Gabrielle admitted.
I can understand that, Xena agreed. I'm not looking forward to taking her on again.
How do we do this? Last time I fought her spirit and you killed her body, Gabrielle asked as Xena led her to one of the benches lining the walls.
As usual, I guess, the warrior shrugged. Go into the spirit realm, keep her off balance and kill her spirit.
You haven't figured it out, have you? the bard pulled back from Xena's arms and the warrior frowned.
Figured out what?
I think Yakut has figured it out but hasn't said anything yet, Gabrielle said thoughtfully.
What about? Alti? the warrior demanded.
The vampire spirit that Alti sent to Matitta to turn her into a vampire and spread it to the Amazons, the bard answered and watched Xena's frown deepen as the warrior thought about the renegade Amazon.
Matitta had been the Law Speaker for the tribe and wanted to be Queen and resisted when the young Otere had been named successor to Queen Arja and had fought against Gabrielle being accepted into the tribe.
Gabrielle remembered the battle with Alti very well; she still had nightmares of Alti bringing the bard's Bacchae curse to full power. Gabrielle couldn't fight against the full Bacchae curse, just like before when she had bitten Xena. To save her, Queen Arja had willingly given herself to Gabrielle's fangs and Matitta had protested this was enough to keep Gabrielle out of the tribe.
All doubts had been put to rest when Arja's spirit appeared at Gabrielle's initiation and declared the bard an Amazon worthy to be adopted into the tribe.
The problems hadn't ended then with Matitta, however. Xena's son Solan had fallen in love with one of his Amazon guards. Matitta had demanded they be banished into the ice and snow for breaking the courtship rules. The Greeks learned that Matitta wanted Solan and his mate, Matitta's own daughter, to die in the snow and the adult Greeks, Xena and Gabrielle with them.
The Law Speaker wanted Xena's daughter Sasha to stay with the Northern Amazons because she had learned Sasha was the daughter of Ares and Xena and would probably have god powers.
The Greeks and Reija had fled into the snow one night and had nearly died from Amazon arrows and the cold.
Gabrielle could tell Xena was remembering the same thing. Then the warrior's eyes widened and she looked at her mate, eyes questioning.
The vampire couldn't be Arja, Xena protested. She appeared at your initiation and gave her approval to your adoption into the tribe?
Wouldn't that be just what Alti would want? Gabrielle asked bitterly. To keep us connected to the North? Knowing we'd either stay here or be back.
You think Alti is controlling Arja and that she turned into a vampire because of your bite, Xena frowned.
Yes, Yakut told me after the battle that anyone dying by a vampire's fangs in the spirit world remains trapped there, Gabrielle said softly.
Xena gently wiped a tear away from her mate's cheek.
That's why you didn't want to be accepted into the tribe, the warrior mentioned softly.
Yes, not only did I kill Arja but I trapped her spirit as a vampire in the spirit world with Alti.
You didn't say anything to me, Xena took the bard into her arms as Gabrielle cried softly.
I wasn't sure, now I am and I have to face my own guilty past instead of yours this time, the bard whispered.
Well, Alti is still part of my past guilt, the warrior reminded her.
I don't know if I can face both of them, Gabrielle repeated.
We'll figure it out, my love, Xena said, trying to reassure her sleepless bard.
"I know, anything to stop Alti," Gabrielle muttered. "Now we deal with your past and mine, Alti and Arja."
Xena frowned but really didn't have an answer for her beloved. It was true that Gabrielle had dealt with Alti but not as long or as in-depth as Xena had in her youth. The bard had no idea of what Alti wanted and that she was capable of getting it, even as a ghost. The warrior knew she had to be willing to die if necessary to stop Alti's vision of the world, Xena just hoped that Gabrielle wouldn't be caught up in the firestorm.
Yakut found the warrior going through her sword drills the next day in the same practice hut. She sat down on one of the benches and watched Xena along with several of the Amazon scouts and warriors.
Like other Amazon villages, this tribe had a practice yard outside but to deal with the snow months in the Siberian north, they also had a practice hut. Also a sweat hut, and an isolation hut for those going snow mad with cabin fever.
Yakut wasn't surprised to find the Greek warrior in the practice hut. It was a daily routine for the warrior and most of the Amazons as well.
After a series of thrusts and parries with a sword in each hand, the warrior then went through several complicated flips and jumps that ended with her in a defensive pose with one sword held parallel to her chest and the other pointing forward over her head.
She grinned at the sudden burst of howls and cheers from the Amazons and then her eyes narrowed when she spotted Yakut waiting.
The other Amazons broke into pairs or groups and began their own practicing. Xena grabbed a towel and ran it over her hair quickly and sat down next to the Shaman.
What's up, Yakut?
We need to deal with Alti, the shaman said simply.
And Arja? the warrior asked softly and wasn't surprised when Yakut nodded sadly.
Gabrielle figured it out? Yakut asked.
Yes, Xena nodded in return.
We need to deal with them before they can build up more power, especially after losing their control over the vampires, Yakut insisted.
I know, Xena muttered.
What is it?
Gabrielle's having doubts about facing them, Xena admitted.
I can understand that but we need to take action, Yakut protested. You know Alti won't give up.
I know but any doubt or fear is deadly in the Spirit Realm, you know that, Xena countered.
How do we deal with this? Leave Gabrielle behind in the Physical Realm?
I don't know, she's not one for staying behind if I'm in danger, Xena frowned.
Tomorrow night is the full moon, we need to move before the moon moves into the waning phase and gives power to negative workings, Yakut insisted.
Alright, even if Gabrielle isn't up for it, we go tomorrow evening, Xena decided firmly. "What about you, Yakut?"
"What do you mean?" the shaman asked with a frown.
"You've been treating Gabrielle differently, what's going on?" Xena questioned the smaller woman.
"I don't think I have," Yakut protested, still frowning.
"Yes you have and I think she's noticed it," Xena insisted. "I need to know that you can work past this and be there for us as our anchor. Our souls depend on it."
Yakut lowered her head and appeared to be thinking about what the warrior had asked and after a moment looked Xena in the eyes.
"Okay, soul searching done," Yakut responded. "Yes, I feel differently since the attack by the vampires. I do see Gabrielle differently."
"You were one of the few who knew she requires blood before the mess with Matitta," Xena protested, trying to keep her anger in check. Yes, it was her mate, her Gabrielle they were talking about but the warrior reminded herself that she asked.
"Yes, and then I was raped and fed on every night for two weeks!" Yakut snapped, her eyes flashing brightly with the anger. "Always by a different vampire so I wouldn't change, Matitta wanted me alive as long as possible so she could torture me every night. You may not remember your attacks but Matitta made sure I remembered every single moment."
"You know Gabrielle isn't like that!" Xena protested; her hands clenched.
"Yes, I know that," Yakut agreed, her voice still raised in anger. "Feeling it is something else and you know it. Gabrielle knows that you weren't aware of what was happening and you don't remember it but don't you think she still had a problem with someone else nibbling on your neck and who knows what else they did with your body?"
Xena felt her eyes narrow in anger and a growl rumbling in her chest but fought them back. After a moment she nodded and unclenched her hands. "Yes, she does and we've talked about it. She understands and forgives me but it still bothers her."
"Xena, I will be there for both of you when you cross into the Spirit Realm," Yakut said firmly. "I swear it. I will die for either or both of you. This won't interfere."
"Okay," Xena nodded, suddenly feeling very tired. The warrior wondered if she was still fuzzy from dealing with the vampires so recently herself. The Greek was worried about this upcoming fight. "None of us are really ready for this," she muttered.
"No, but we have to stop Alti before she builds up much more power in either Realm," Yaku insisted.
"I know, I know," the warrior mumbled.
Xena walked up behind her mate as Gabrielle stood outside the circle of dancing Amazons. The drummers had set a pounding beat that normally would have set the bard swaying, easily sliding into a trance.
Xena could tell tonight was not one of those nights when she wrapped her arms around her mate and could feel the tension in the little bard.
Normally the bard enjoyed the Amazon rituals, especially the dancing and drumming. Yakut was in full shaman clothing and swaying to the beat as she stood next to the huge bonfire. Several Amazons stood around the circle, ready to protect those entering the Spirit Realm and leaving their bodies behind. Xena noticed Sasha sitting with the drummers, also ready to lend her energy to the ritual.
You alright? Xena whispered in Gabrielle's ear.
No, the bard admitted. I couldn't fight Alti's magic last time, Xena. It cost Arja her life and this time it might be you. I couldn't face that.
You aren't responsible for Arja, Alti is, Xena growled.
It was my fangs that killed her and turned her, just like I turned you that night in the cave of Bacchus, Gabrielle countered bitterly.
And you've faced that side of yourself and won, Gabrielle! Xena urged. Remember when you were starved physically and blood starved and you didn't touch that girl, you fought back and won!
Gabrielle's eyebrows furrowed in thought. She remembered when she had been captured by an evil magician and starved to the point of madness, especially blood madness. To turn the bard into a creature of the night under his control, the magician had meant for her to kill an innocent pregnant girl while he cast a spell on the bard.
Gabrielle had fought back against the blood hunger. Then the bard shook her head.
You remember breaking into that Arab's workshop and finding me with that girl? the bard questioned her mate.
Yes, you were full Bacchae, half insane and you hadn't touched her, you were trying to protect her, Xena said firmly.
Because of you, the bard whispered, closing her eyes as her jaw clenched.
What? this time Xena's face reflected her confusion.
I was about to sink my fangs into her neck, I had no conscious thought left and hadn't been aware of anything for days. Then I heard your battle cry outside, that's what brought me back, Gabrielle explained, trying to fight back tears of anger. It wasn't my strength, it was you.
Don't you see, it was still you, Xena insisted. Our connection, your love for me and mine for you was stronger than the darkness you were in. If you weren't connected more to the light than the dark you never would have heard that war cry.
I still failed and killed Arja, Gabrielle said bitterly, Let's just get this over with.
Xena frowned as Gabrielle pulled out of her arms and walked in through the dancers and sat down across from Yakut at the main fire.
Xena tried to smile as Sasha walked up to her and quickly hugged her mom. The child turned and looked at her adopted mom while still hugging Xena.
She's not ready for this, Sasha said softly.
No one ever is, Xena said grimly. "We have to stop Alti, Sash. Alti would be willing to destroy the entire world if she thought it would give her power and revenge. Gabrielle has fought Alti before and she's better prepared for the Bacchae thing, I don't think Alti can use it against her again. That might give Gabrielle an edge we need over Alti."
I'm still worried, Mom. You both be careful! Sasha demanded.
You bet, kiddo, Xena grinned and kissed her daughter on the head.
Gabrielle wasn't just nervous, she had to admit, she was scared.
The bard sat breathing deeply as she felt Xena sit down next to her. Gabrielle closed her eyes and tried to empty her mind and let the beat begin to take her. She accepted the mug placed in her hands and drank down half the contents and began rocking with the beat as someone took the mug away. Gabrielle knew that the mug would be handed to Xena next.
The bard tried calming herself. Xena had been right, Gabrielle had fought the darkness using her inner light, one that was expanded by being the daughter of Apollo, god of the sun and healing. Since facing Alti last time, the bard had beaten that blood hunger by using that light, she had also discovered she had some healing abilities.
Gabrielle felt the drugs in the tea she had just drunk beginning to take hold and let herself flow with the pounding drums and chanting, beginning to alter, to trance. Next the bard felt another mug being pressed into her hands and immediately felt her fangs trying to extend themselves as the smell of blood reached her. She fought her fangs back into their recessed holding place in her jaws, out of sight.
The bard easily drank half the contents of the blood from the deer she and Xena had taken down that morning. She knew Xena would drink the other half of the liquid.
Gabrielle felt light-headed and everything began shifting. Having her eyes closed didn't help as the scenes in her mind shifted, the colors bleeding into each other, roaring filling her ears. The bard knew she was crossing over to the Spirit Realm.
As she fell, she could feel Xena's spirit next to her and the familiar feel of Sasha's surrounding them. The talented child of gods was providing an anchor to the real world for her moms.
Xena opened her eyes and wasn't surprised to find the sky gray, devoid of all color and the grass so brilliant green that it was difficult to look at. The bird sounds were backwards or the silence was deafening. Then Xena closed her eyes as the colors all blended together, making the warrior dizzy.
When she opened her eyes, Xena found everything appearing normal.
The warrior shook her head, it had been years since she had been in the Spirit Realm. She had always regretted letting Gabrielle face Alti and the Spirit Amazons without her that day but someone had to ensure Alti's body was killed. Now she was hoping that Alti would continue to underestimate her mate; most did.
Xena had tried to tell Gabrielle how proud she was of the bard but it had been difficult with Gabrielle's guilt over killing Queen Arja. Gabrielle had faced Cyane, the legendary Queen of the Northern Amazons, the only one who had ever beaten the Amazon warrior had been Xena. Gabrielle had almost been killed but had defeated the Queen, something that had impressed the Greek warrior.
Xena turned and found Gabrielle a few yards away, on her hands and knees shaking her head. The bard's green eyes looked up and found Xena's blue ones and she smiled slightly.
Suddenly Gabrielle yelped and fell backwards as an energy burst exploded in front of her hands.
Xena's body and head snapped around and she saw Alti, looking younger and more deadly than Xena last remembered. The dark shaman was standing on a large tree branch high above the Greeks. Alti laughed and launched another energy ball at the bard and Gabrielle flipped over backwards to avoid the deadly attack.
Xena growled and sent the chakram flying but Alti merely held up her hand and deflected it back at Xena. The warrior caught it with a snarl.
An energy bolt caught up with the bard, sending her smashing into a large tree. Gabrielle landed hard at the base of the tree, shaking her head.
Xena screamed a war cry and launched herself at the evil shaman. Physics often bent their usual laws for Xena and her flips but in this realm those laws didn't even exist. The warrior found herself flying through the air with chakram in front of her, heading right for Alti's neck.
Gabrielle's eyes cleared as Xena left the ground heading towards Alti. The bard saw the shaman laugh and dive off the branch, heading straight for Xena with her claw-like fingernails extended.
The bard's eyes narrowed and she drew her sais but as she got to her feet something grabbed her from above, claws digging into her shoulders, trying to rip through the leather. For once the bard was grateful she was wearing a Northern Amazon leather tunic and not her usual leather top that barely covered anything.
Gabrielle looked up into the face of the vampire Arja as she was yanked into the air into the tree branches. The bard struck at the vampire with the sais and the vampire screamed as one sank into her ribs and the vampire realized that the sais were wood and deadly.
Arja dropped the bard and Gabrielle landed hard, screaming as she fell on her arm and sai and felt a white-hot pain through her ribs.
Oh not again! she muttered, remembering the time Ares broke her ribs, kidnapped her and took her to Tartarus where her healing abilities were suspended. She managed to roll out of the way as Arja landed on the ground where Gabrielle had been.
The bard whirled around and struck at the Queen of the Northern Amazons and parried with her sais the attempts by the vampire to slice Gabrielle with claw fingernails. She and Arja ended up wrestling on the ground, vampire and partial Bacchae.
Gabrielle attempted to keep control over her Bacchae side as Arja tried to slash at her with deadly fingernails and fangs. The bard felt her own fangs extend and eyes change from green to Bacchae yellow as she broke contact with the vampire and rolled several feet away.
The bard paused a moment to catch her breath and growled in both anger and frustration. Alti laughed high above her, fighting with Xena and Arja grinned at her.
What's wrong, Gabrielle? Arja hissed. Don't approve of your handiwork?
Gabrielle hesitated in throwing her sais, the guilt hitting her. She turned to see Alti and Xena fighting in mid-air and Gabrielle's grip on her sais tightened in resolution.
The bard spun with her sais in hand to face Arja when she froze in mid-step.
With a scream from Alti and a war cry from Xena, the two slammed into each other. Xena met Alti in mid-air, chakram and nails slashing. The shaman managed to avoid the chakram and grabbed Xena's wrist with one hand and the warrior's throat with the other as they flew through the sky with the momentum of the crash.
Xena growled, feeling at a definite disadvantage in the air. She wasn't accustomed to fighting in the air and Alti obviously was. Xena wished for a tree branch or solid ground to get her feet under her so she could break Alti's hold on her, instead she cried out as they slammed into a tree, barely missing a sharp tree branch.
Xena's blue eyes widened as she looked at the branch right next to her head. Then her eyes narrowed as Alti laughed at her. The warrior got a foothold and thrust up with her legs and back, managing to knock Alti's hand away from her throat.
Next came a series of blows that moved too fast for even the birds in the strange realm to follow as Alti and Xena fought for the advantage. Xena grabbed Alti's hand holding the warrior's wrist and twisted and was pleased to hear Alti cry out as her wrist snapped audibly.
What's wrong, Alti? Xena hissed as they closed together again, hands reaching for throats and eyes. Don't like being hurt in this realm anymore than you did in the physical?
Xena, why are you fighting your destiny? I told you that your future was to be the Destroyer of Nations, Alti purred.
I found a better deal, Xena growled and then yelled out in anger as Alti took advantage of the close hand-to-hand fighting to grab Xena and kiss her quickly.
Stop fighting it, Xena, Alti grinned. I can still help you fulfill that destiny.
Then see your future! Alti growled and Xena's head jerked at the sudden images flooding her brain.
Xena slashing out as a Bacchae Gabrielle flew at her.
Gabrielle lying on a cave floor with a dryad bone sticking out of her chest and Xena laying next to her, covered in blood and not moving.
Solan looking down at an arrow sticking out of his chest in surprise.
Gabrielle, her head thrown back, covered in sweat and screaming in pain.
Xena screamed in rage and smashed Alti in the face with a fist and the shaman went flying backwards in the air until she hit a tree, again barely missing one of the sharp branches.
Xena was tired of this trick. She knew Alti was subtlety trying to work on Xena's guilt about killing the Northern Amazons all those years before by impaling them on broken tree limbs and spike traps.
The warrior was about to dive after Alti again when she glanced down and saw Gabrielle freeze, sais in hand but the green eyes distant.
Gabrielle! the warrior screamed and then heard the drumming and chanting that the bard had already heard.
Xena knew the chanting, she had heard it before.
No! Xena screamed as Gabrielle dropped the wooden sais.
In the caves of Bacchus in the Bacchae Forest.
The vampire Arja looked up at Xena and grinned as she walked towards a non-resisting Gabrielle.
Xena drew her chakram back to decapitate the vampire when she was thrown off balance from an energy bolt from Alti and hit the ground hard. The warrior rose up, groaning with pain and quickly looked over and saw Gabrielle close her eyes and tilt her head back as Arja moved behind her.
Gabrielle! Fight it! Xena screamed and then rolled quickly to one side and then the other as Alti continued to throw energy bursts at her.
Arja wrapped her arms around the little bard and took to the air laughing with her prize as Xena screamed.
Somewhere in her mind, Gabrielle heard Xena cry out for her but it seemed so far away. Like something out of a dream, she thought. The feeling of flying was a sensation she barely remembered from being a Bacchae but it felt nice.
Then the bard frowned. Where was she? Where were her sais? Where was Xena?
Weren't they fighting someone?
"No!" Xena screamed as she slashed at Alti above her, trying to get a shot in at the vampire carrying her mate away. "Gabrielle!"
Alti landed on a tree branch and laughed at the warrior as Xena was thrown into another tree from one of the shaman's energy balls. When Xena's eyes cleared, Arja and Gabrielle were nowhere in sight.
"No!" Xena glared at Alti. "Where is she, bitch?!"
Alti laughed even harder. "Someone wanted to see her again, Xena."
Xena sharp eyes took in the moving shadows around her and she pulled out her sword as well as the chakram as vampires began emerging into the light. The spirits of those vampires they had been forced to kill before Gabrielle had made peace between the Amazons and vampires. Included among them was Matitta. The warrior was quickly surrounded.
"Yakut!" Xena screamed and felt her spirit being yanked back abruptly.
Xena moaned and then sat up abruptly. "Gabrielle!"
Hands gently held her back from leaping to her feet. The warrior growled and then relaxed a little as Yakut knelt in front of her. "Gabrielle!"
"No, we can't get her back," Yakut answered and helped Xena stand up, supporting the warrior until she got her feet steady under her We've lost contact with her soul.
The shaman pointed across the circle and Xena stood stunned.
Sasha was shaking her head and the child looked dazed. Xena quickly crossed the short space to her daughter and pulled the girl close, examining her swiftly. To her relief,
Sasha's eyes focused and she nodded at her mom.
Xena turned to take in the sight of Gabrielle again as she and Sasha stood up.
The bard was still on the furs she had fallen back on when she entered the trance state necessary to enter the Spirit Realm. It also appeared that the bard was still unconscious, her body occasionally twitching with whatever was happening to her in the Spirit.
What had changed was that Gabrielle was surrounded by a massive growth of vines, Xena's eyes spotted several kinds of ivy and grapes. Her eyes widened as she realized that they were moving, as if conscious of their surroundings. She turned to Yakut as the warrior wiped blood away from a cut lip, courtesy of Alti.
"They have fangs and thorns and killed one Amazon already," Yakut said bitterly.
Queen Otere ran up, joining the two as the rest of the Amazons kept up the chanting and drumming.
"The vines grabbed three of the Amazons and began biting them and draining their blood. We couldn't get one of my warriors away in time," Otere said bitterly and Xena could see numerous bite marks on the Amazon Queen.
"We moved you when they started reaching for you, they won't let anyone get close to Gabrielle," Yakut explained, holding a wounded hand.
"Weapons? Fire?" the warrior asked.
"The vines work in harmony against anyone approaching them with a torch. We tried throwing torches at the vines and they threw them back, hitting two of the huts," Otere growled.
"And we can't near enough with weapons to do enough damage," Yakut continued.
The warrior growled, "What if we rush them?"
"We can try," Otere smiled grimly. "Amazons! Form a spearhead! Two Amazons in the center, if we break through it'll be your job to grab Gabrielle."
"Yes, Queen Otere," two Amazons stepped forward, volunteering.
The Amazons formed up with Xena at the front, Otere didn't even question Xena's position in the lead to fight for her mate.
Xena moved Sasha to one side and drew her chakram. The child didn't try to stop her mom but the worry showed clearly on the child's face.
Gabrielle flinched away from the stinging slap and opened her eyes reluctantly. The bard felt a layer of ice surround her heart, gripping her with fear.
"Oh sweet Artemis," she whispered.
Bacchus, Lord of the Bacchae, Wine and Vine, grinned and stroked the young woman's cheek with one of his long claw-like nails.
"Sorry, bard," he laughed in his deep bass voice, "she's nowhere near here."
Gabrielle realized she was chained to a cave wall by her wrists and a quick glance around told her that she was surrounded by Bacchae, servants of Bacchus and others in the middle of a bacchanalia orgy and celebration.
"What do you want with me, Bacchus?" Gabrielle asked, her voice angered. "I'm already cursed with your blood."
"But you aren't mine, little one," he grinned and Gabrielle felt sick hearing the dark god call her by the term of endearment that Xena usually used. "I want you totally, heart and soul. I already have your body with those cravings.""
"Never!" she snapped.
"But you will, daughter, you will," he promised.
"I'm not your daughter! I am the daughter of Apollo and Hecuba," Gabrielle growled.
"Niece then, or something. You will give over willingly, little bard," Bacchus laughed.
"No!" Gabrielle yelled, then whispered, "Xena."
"She can't get to you, in this realm or the physical one either," Bacchus laughed heartily.
"No!" the bard screamed and struggled as two Bacchae approached her. Gabrielle struggled as one attempted to hold her head and the other held a goblet to her lips. The bard at first thought it was the blood of Bacchus but even when she realized it was wine she still struggled.
The fact that it was wine gave her hope, Bacchus wanted or needed her to submit willingly and not by force. That might give her time for Xena to get through to her, she thought as she struggled with the Bacchae, resisting drinking the alcohol until she had spit half of it out and choked on several mouthfuls. They finally managed to get most of the alcohol down her throat. Then another goblet appeared and the bard could taste herbs in the drink. Drugs.
Gabrielle attempted to spit the liquid out and felt her head snap back from a blow to her jaw and then rocked to the side by a blow to her eye. She drank the entire contents of the second goblet.
Xena screamed in anger as another vine attempted to entangle around her throat and another did manage to wrap around her sword wrist. She growled and sliced through the vine at her throat but the vine around her wrist managed to sink its fangs into her wrist before she cut it in half.
Other vines were already wrapping around her legs and digging in, no matter how fast she cut through them.
The warrior felt strong hands grabbing her under her arms and pulling her back as others cut the vines holding onto her. Once clear of the moving hoard of greenery, the same hands quickly grabbed the vines and pulled the dying plant life from the warrior's body.
Xena sat up and looked around at the Amazons surrounding the area and found them all in similar shape: bleeding, bruised and beaten back from the wall of vines.
This was their third attempt to reach the bard and their third failure.
The first time they had been beaten by a solid wall of vines, interlacing together tighter than a fishing net and striking out against when the Amazons and Greek would try to slash at them.
The second time Xena had tried flipping over the vines to get to Gabrielle but the vines had formed a dome over the bard, grabbed Xena by all four limbs and threw her back. The warrior landed heavily on the ground. She growled deeply and screamed in frustration as she sat up and looked at the vines.
Xena would almost be willing to swear later that the vines were laughing at her.
"Damnit!" she yelled and the Amazons had formed up to try again.
Now most of them were bleeding from more than a dozen wounds and some had broken limbs and they were no closer to getting to the unconscious Southern Amazon Queen than when they first approached the vines.
"Xena, I've never seen this before," Yakut complained, "where did Alti learn this level of plant control?"
"She didn't," the warrior's voice was bitter.
"Then who is working with her?" Otere questioned as two of the Amazons bandaged a deep bite wound on her right thigh.
"Bacchus, he's the god of wine, Bacchae and vines," she snarled.
"Bacchus, Gabrielle has talked of him," Yakut said thoughtfully, "He's the one that cursed her with the Bacchae blood."
"Yes, now he wants her totally, forcing her to turn me into a Bacchae or me to kill her," Xena nodded.
"Or Alti to kill you and he still has Gabrielle," Otere said grimly.
"Yes, all of the above would suit either of those two," Xena growled.
"So, now what?" Yakut demanded to no one in particular.
"Well, we can't get to her from this end, we'll have to do it on the Spirit level," Xena said simply.
Sasha nodded slightly, watching the Amazons and her mom.
"New game plan time," Otere agreed.
"Consort!" one of the Amazons standing near the vines called and Xena, Otere and Yakut stumbled over to see what she was pointing at.
The tribe could see the bard's body twitching as if she were in a bad dream. They could see blood trickling slightly from the bard's mouth from a cut lip and also bruising around her right eye. It was obvious that whatever was happening to her in the Spirit Realm, she was fighting against it.
Then Xena thought her heart would stop as fang marks appeared on the bard's neck and blood flowed slowly from the wounds as the bard's body jerked.
"No!" Xena screamed and started to launch herself against the vines again.
After a few moments she realized she was being held back by Yakut and several Amazons. She nodded slightly and they eased their hold on the warrior. Xena turned away from seeing Gabrielle being abused as she stood by helpless.
"New battle plan time," she growled.
Gabrielle fought back against the lips pressing against hers and the insistent hands roaming over her body but found she had no way to resist with her body chained against a rock wall. The bard was already fuzzy from the alcohol and the touch of the Bacchae was trying to get past her defenses.
"Xena!" she screamed, as she broke loose from the lips only to have them trail down to her throat and begin nibbling.
As the Bacchae fangs sank into her neck, Gabrielle felt her body responding to the eroticism of the Bacchae magic against her will. Multiple hands began ripping away her clothing as the fangs moved down from her neck and bit the bard on the breast.
Gabrielle screamed, both out of terror and arousal. She could faintly hear Bacchus laughing.
"Xena!" Gabrielle screamed again and lashed out, knocking the Bacchae away from her chest and kicked two others away from her. The bard knew that her own fangs were flashing and her eyes were now yellow and glaring with anger as she snarled at Bacchus.
The goat-horned god merely threw back his head and laughed at Gabrielle's struggles. His dark, burgundy skin glistened in the torchlight and his mouth full of fangs glinted back at the bard. Bacchus pointed his finger at the bard.
"You are strong, stronger than I expected," he admitted. "Especially with my blood running through you. You're already a blood drinker and you can still resist me, interesting. Won't last long though."
"Go to Tartarus!" she snapped, clenching her fangs together.
"Been there, done that," he grinned back. "Let's see if we can weaken that resistance of yours a bit."
Gabrielle screamed as a flash of light enveloped her and lightning seemed to radiate from her wrists. When she opened her eyes against the blinding pain she screamed again.
The bard was once again on a wooden cross with Roman spikes driven through her wrists.
"No!" The same type cross she had died on. Gabrielle screamed as darkness crowded her.
Xena was across the common before Yakut and Otere had even gotten to their feet, at the sound of alarm from one of the Amazons keeping a watch on Gabrielle.
Otere reached out an arm to steady her Greek friend as Xena stood stunned, watching her mate and the new development.
The bard's breathing was labored and blood was flowing from under the bracers she wore on her wrists.
"Not again!" Xena whispered.
"What is it, Xena?" Yakut asked.
"Alti's old trick, she or Bacchus is making Gabrielle relive the crucifixion," the Greek warrior said softly.
"When she died," Yakut finished the thought.
"Yes," Xena spun on her heel and looked at the full moon. "Artemis! Apollo! Father! Anyone!" she screamed and couldn't really believe that no one appeared in front of her.
After a moment Xena's face hardened. "Alright, we can't get help from them, we'll have to do it ourselves.
Xena turned to find Sasha standing and watching Gabrielle.
Sasha? the warrior questioned softly.
The child's eyes were half closed and Xena recognized the trance look in Sasha's eyes.
She's breaking down, the child said softly. The pain of the crucifixion is too much for her.
Come on, Xena ordered the Amazons, I don't know how much longer Gabrielle can hold on.
Xena wasn't surprised to find Alti and Arja waiting for her when she crossed over into the Spirit Realm again. They both looked extremely pleased with themselves.
"Take me to Gabrielle!" Xena demanded, her chakram in hand.
"Not likely, Xena!" Alti laughed, her voice as harsh as Xena remembered in the Physical realm. "I do have a proposition for you, however."
"Nothing you say could interest me!" the warrior snapped, releasing the chakram without warning.
Alti bent over backwards, avoiding the steel weapon but Arja didn't move quite fast enough. The shaman looked over where the vampire had been standing on a tree branch and casually watched the dust falling through the air. The only thing left of the vampire after being decapitated by the chakram.
She looked down at Xena and shrugged.
"Leave your little bard to play in this realm, Bacchus can make things very enjoyable, you know," Alti purred.
"What?" Xena demanded, suddenly confused. "What do you want?"
"Gabrielle's body," Alti grinned at the warrior's shocked face. "Just think, Xena, we could rule the world together and you'd still get to fuck that gorgeous body. Bet I can think of some tricks your gentle little bard hasn't."
"By the gods, you are twisted, Alti!" Xena hissed, leaping up to join the shaman on the tree branch, chakram at the ready. "I'd never agree to that and neither would Gabrielle."
"She'll agree to anything soon, enough time spent in Bacchus' den of pleasure and anyone would give up everything to stay there," Alti taunted and deflected Xena's sudden chakram slashes with her energy bolts.
"Never! Gabrielle is light itself, something that worries you, doesn't it?" Xena countered and knew she had hit a point with the shaman when Alti's eyes flashed for a moment. "Is that why you and Bacchus fight so hard to turn her to the darkness? To conquer that light?"
"She is a challenge," Alti admitted. "She was so much easier last time. One thing remains the same, however."
"What?" Xena demanded, flipping over backwards on the branch as Alti lashed out with a sudden energy burst.
"She's your weakness," Alti grinned but lost the smile when she was knocked from the branch after Xena leaped into the air and hit the shaman in the chest several times with her feet, sending the shaman flying.
"Ares thought so too, look where he is," Xena muttered as she rushed after Alti, only to be backhanded by the shaman into a tree. The warrior slid down the trunk to the ground shaking her head.
Xena dived to one side as another energy bold hit the tree where she had been sitting. The warrior quickly got to her feet and began running.
"Xena?" Alti called, the confusion apparent in her voice. "Where are you going? You know I'll find you."
The warrior flipped over some rocks and landed softly and blocked a sword aimed at her head with the chakram.
Gabrielle had no idea how long she was on the cross but she was having trouble breathing and the pain was overwhelming the bard's attempts at concentration. She knew from dealing with Alti before that the Spirit Realm was mostly mental, that's how Bacchus could make her appear on a cross without actually nailing her to the wood. It was still real because of Bacchus' mind controlling it and Gabrielle's mind accepting it.
The bard growled her frustration, she knew if she could just concentrate enough she could get off of that cross and maybe even out of the Spirit Realm. The problem was she couldn't get three thoughts together past the pain, added in with the chanting and dancing of the bacchanalia.
"Xena," she whispered.
It took a moment to realize that she was no longer on the cross and no longer had seven inch spikes driven through her wrists. They were still bleeding and hurt badly but she was off the cross and laying on furs and pillows.
Someone was bandaging Gabrielle's wrists and someone else was placing a cool, wet cloth across her forehead and eyes. The bard was too grateful that the pain was easing up to resist and laid back on the soft cloth of the pillows and hides of the sleeping furs. She gratefully drank the wine offered by strong, masculine hands and accepted the gentle stroking from feminine hands through her hair.
"Xena, there are spirit vampires all over the place. How do we fight them?" Otere asked, drawing her sword back, blushing from the fact she had instinctively slashed out at a figure leaping out of the dark and it had been Xena.
"Same as in the physical, decapitate them or ram a spear through their chest and break their spines," Xena growled.
"Xena! I can tell you have playmates with you," they heard Alti's coarse voice calling from the trees. "Come out and play some more. There was a time when we shared playmates."
"Damn her!" Xena muttered.
"Is that little Otere with you?" Both Xena and Otere's breath caught in their throats. "Do you want to share her now that she's an adult?"
The warrior watched the Amazon Queen begin blushing a bright red and drop her eyes as the other Amazons looked away. Suddenly things became even clearer to the warrior as to why Alti had wanted Otere dead those many years before. Otere was destined to become powerful as the Amazon Queen, as Alti had said. Otere was also one of Alti's victims and the shaman didn't like to leave any of them alive.
Otere refused to meet Xena's eyes, a response not uncommon from survivors of child abuse.
"Damn that bitch!" Xena cursed and walked out from behind the rock cropping to face Alti in the moonlight. "I never cared for children in that way, you sick bitch."
"No, you never agreed with the spilling of their blood either," Alti agreed. "That was what caused your downfall, wasn't it? Couldn't kill a child so your men turned against you."
"Yes," Xena agreed. "Just like I couldn't kill Otere when you wanted me too."
"Well, what happens now, Xena? How long can you stay in this realm before your physical body begins dying? What about those with you? How long can they last here?"
"Long enough to stop you!" Xena suddenly screamed a war cry and Amazons popped up from behind rocks and in trees all around the shaman. They began firing arrows and spears at Alti and the vampires stalking towards Xena.
Fire arrows sent vampires screaming into the darkness while other arrows pierced heads and hearts, turning the vampires into dust.
Alti deflected all the arrows and spears launched at her, sending several of them back the way they had came, to impale their owners with their own weapons. Several Amazons dropped, either dead or dying.
Xena leaped up onto the same branch with Alti and again they began exchanging blows, energy bolts and chakram slashes.
The Greek warrior had the feeling that they were getting nowhere. The Amazons were holding the vampires back and she was about evenly matched with Alti and Gabrielle was still somewhere in the hands of Bacchus.
The bard bit her lips to keep from crying out again as the lash landed on her back. Gabrielle was still reeling from the shock of everything. One minute she had been dying on a cross again and then in comforting hands. Hands and lips that were soft and gentle and soothing, bandaging her wounds, giving her drink and holding her as the pain eased.
Then those same hands dragged the bard to her feet and over to a large X-shaped wooden structure and chained her hands and feet to the post.
Gabrielle had screamed at the first shock of feeling the whip against her skin and then bit her lip against the pain. She had felt that pain before when forced into slavery; she still had light scars from those lessons.
It was getting harder and harder not to scream as the torture continued and the bard could feel the blood trickling down her back from open wounds.
Gabrielle clung to the chains holding her wrist and felt the screams ripped from her throat, finally unable to fight it. Her fangs extending again at the smell of her own blood from her back and from thrashing against the chains on her wrists; wrists that were already seeping blood through their bandages from the crucifixion.
Yakut looked around, noting the progress they were making against the vampires and Xena still holding Alti at bay. She watched the two parrying sword strikes and energy bolts and shook her head, the little shaman knew within moments that she never wanted to face Alti on any level.
The Amazon shaman sat down behind the rocks and let herself drift away.
She's back! Yakut heard someone saying and then a mug of water was pressed against her lips as hands helped her sit up. She drank gratefully as she opened her eyes and took in the concerned faces of the Amazons around her.
She quickly looked at the sleeping bodies of the Amazons still in a trance, their souls fighting the spirit vampires in the Spirit realm. Several of them had blankets covering their bodies and the shaman resisted the urge to grieve. That would come later.
Yakut smiled at Sasha, the little girl held Xena's hand. The young girl's eyes were half closed but she smiled back at Yakut.
Your Mom is still holding Alti off, Yakut told the youngster.
Yes, but Gabby mom is in trouble, Sasha responded, a tear escaping down her cheek.
What can you see? Yakut's voice became intense. Not even she could see what was happening to Gabrielle in the Spirit Realm.
She's being beaten and then comforted, not given a chance to think or meditate. Bacchus wants her will broken so she will give into him, Sasha responded, her voice in a monotone, as she seemed to be focused elsewhere. She's being whipped now.
Can she hold out until we reach her? Yakut questioned.
No, I don't think so, Sasha said simply. They're using drugged wine too.
Damn! Yakut cursed and then crossed her legs again. I'm going back, she informed the Amazons staying behind.
Gabrielle cried out as fangs sank into her neck again and as hands and lips roamed over the rest of her body.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, the bard shivered at the sound of Bacchus laughing.
Gabrielle tried to get up and someone shoved another goblet of wine at the bard and others forced her to drink. The bard gave up trying to think coherently as sensations overwhelmed her body.
One minute was pleasure and the next was incredible pain. She began to hope that the pleasure would last longer than the next round of pain.
Come to me, little bard, Bacchus' voice whispered in her ear.
Xena looked down at the sword wound in her side and grimaced.
She and Alti were breathing heavy and sizing each other up again. The warrior glanced down and saw that the spirit vampires had all disappeared, either they had fled the battle or they were dead and now dust. Xena grinned at the dark shaman.
Lost your soldiers, Alti?
The northern shaman glanced around with a snarl.
Don't worry, Xena, she snapped. You'll be more than an adequate replacement for all of them.
I gotta hand it to you, Alti, Xena grinned a sarcastic grin at her former mentor, You don't give up, do you?
Never! You'll find that out, even if it takes centuries! Alti promised.
Not a chance, bitch! Xena countered with words and then a forward series of flips that caught the shaman off guard and sent her flying through the trees once again. She barely caught a tree limb to stop her momentum in time to stop from being impaled on a ragged tree branch. Both shaman and warrior looked down at the sword Alti had dropped in her desperation to grab the branch.
Alti snarled at the warrior.
Yakut, quick! Xena called down to the Amazon shaman, get the others out of here!
The Amazon nodded and turned to gather the others as Xena turned back to Alti. Xena moaned as she hit the ground hard, taking another energy bolt in the chest. Before she could recover Alti was on her with her hands wrapped around the warrior's throat.
Xena growled and smacked the shaman in the back of the head with her foot, sending Alti tumbling over Xena's head. Both quickly regained their feet and Xena flipped over to where her sword had landed and saw Alti grabbing up her blade at the same time.
Again they squared off.
Want to know about your blood mate, Xena? Alti taunted and the warrior's eyes narrowed. Do you think she's suffering for you?
Once again images flooded Xena's mind.
The sight of naked Bacchae and humans in various positions didn't surprise the warrior; she knew that Alti and Bacchus had set up a bacchanalia in the Spirit Realm for some reason. What did surprise her was the site of a naked Gabrielle in the center of the mass of bodies.
Xena moaned in physical and emotional pain as the bard's head snapped back in obvious passion as shadowy figures worshipped the bard's body. The warrior knew that look well, having it seen it an untold number of times on her mate, always at her hands or lips though, never during sex with someone else.
Gabrielle's hands clenched at the fur hide beneath her as her body began to arch.
Xena sank to her knees as the vision cleared. The roaring in her ears was replaced with Alti's laughter.
What's wrong, Xena? Alti taunted. Didn't think she could find pleasure from anyone but you?
That's Bacchus' doing! Xena muttered, getting back to her feet. The warrior's blue eyes were flashing with fury.
Some of it, Alti admitted, still grinning. But he can only manipulate so much, he can't cause that kind of enjoyment against someone's will.
I don't call torture, giving her drugged wine and sexual abuse free will, Xena growled.
No? Well I call it a good time!
Xena screamed in rage and dived at Alti again as the shaman laughed.
Gabrielle tried to catch her breath. It was either blinding pain or intense pleasure and sometimes the bard wasn't sure which she was feeling at any given moment. Beaten, forced to drink drugged alcohol, all of that was adding up to an unclear mind.
Add the torture of the crucifixion, a flogging until her back was almost ribbons, and more beatings, and Gabrielle was weakened to the point of being unable to resist anything physically.
Then came the sexual arousal in between each torture.
Somehow she kept resisting the blood offered her but it was getting harder. Gabrielle cried out again and she wasn't sure if it was from pleasure or pain anymore.
Xena shook her head as she landed on the ground next to Yakut and Otere. A quick glance around told the warrior that the other Amazons were gone, crossing back over into their physical bodies before the pinch could kill them in the physical realm.
Time to up the bets, Xena growled, deflecting another energy bolt from hitting Yakut with the chakram. Otere, you help Yakut get things ready and I'll take on Alti.
I'm with you, Xena, Otere said firmly.
Xena, this is very risky, Yakut warned.
Do we have a choice? Much longer with Bacchus and Gabrielle will be lost. She wasn't able to resist the bite the first time, she won't be able to this time with his blood already flowing in her veins.
But to use this .. Yakut tried to protest and Xena merely shook her head.
We'll figure out the price later. Just do it! the warrior snapped and the Amazon shaman nodded and moved away with Otere.
Xena growled and faced the dark shaman again.
And what are your playmates up to, Xena? Alti purred, flipping off the tree branch she had been standing on, to land several yards away from the warrior.
Working up a surprise for you, actually, Xena admitted with a flash in her eyes and a grin for Alti.
Alti's eyes narrowed in suspicion. And what could you three possibly work up against me?
How about something I've learned, Xena taunted. Want to see?
What? the shaman demanded.
Xena's eyes half closed as she concentrated. She felt energy humming through her like battle fury. With a shout she released it as a lightning ball towards Alti.
The shaman, accustomed to dealing with magic, sidestepped the bolt but looked back at Xena, stunned.
My father likes to throw lightning bolts around when he's pissed off, guess I take after him, Xena grinned, launching another bolt.
Alti growled and shot her own energy bolt at the warrior only to have it met in mid-air by one of Xena's own bolts.
Otere, peering over the rocks, grinned.
Hurry, Yakut, she urged. It's working! She's tapped some of her inherited powers!
You can't rush these things, damnit! Yakut muttered, sprinkling incense over the fire she and Otere had made earlier. She began chanting and invoking.
Gabrielle felt everything trembling as hands dragged her to her feet again. More alcohol was poured down her throat and then someone was slapping the wounds on her back while others held her.
The bard screamed in agony.
Alti surprised the warrior by flipping up into the trees and disappearing. Xena growled and followed the shaman into the tree branches, moving cautiously, her senses on heightened alert.
Xena yelled in anger as something slammed into her from behind, the warrior hearing something cracking across her back. The warrior just avoided one of the deadly tree branches but landed hard against a parallel branch with her ribs. Xena barely held onto the branch to avoid falling.
Alti's laughter filled her ears as the shaman landed on the branch, her feet stepping on the warrior's hands.
Xena growled, looking up at the shaman as Alti grinned down at her. The warrior coughed and felt the blood welling up in her mouth and past her lips as she struggled to maintain her hold on the tree.
Even with the laws of physics being suspended in the Spirit Realm, Xena wasn't sure she could avoid falling heavily to the ground with the injuries she had taken and didn't want to take that chance.
Alti bent down on the branch.
Give it up, Xena, she taunted. Just say the word and I'll heal you, we leave here and conquer the world. You become the Destroyer of Nations and I will give you that power, Gabrielle's body will be perfect!
Drop dead, Xena muttered.
I'm already dead, that's the point! Alti snapped. Gabrielle's body is already immortal and has powers, joined together with my spirit and even your gods will tremble before us!
Ares promised me that for years, I turned from you once what makes you think I'd ever go back to what I was? Xena demanded.
Xena, your child is one of a god and demi-god, your mate has powers she hasn't explored yet and you have untapped abilities as well, Alti purred. I can show you how to use all of it!
I'm not the power hungry warlord I was, Alti, Xena growled. Get over it.
Have it your way, Xena, Alti shrugged and stood up and applied more pressure on the warrior's fingers, causing Xena to grit her teeth in pain. You die here and I get to torment you forever!
Xena glanced down at the ground and growled at Alti again. With a war cry the warrior swung her body out and then back and forth, snapping her body up behind the startled Alti. As she spun around Xena's feet landed square in the shaman's back, sending her falling towards the ground.
Xena continued the flip over the tree branch and landed next to the shaman and smacked Alti at the back of the neck and rolled away from the shaman.
Alti started to get to her feet and then looked around in confusion as vines began growing at an extremely rapid pace and wrapped around the shaman. Alti growled and then screamed as her legs were encased in the greenery.
What is this? she screamed. Bacchus! What are you doing?
Xena, holding her ribs and the gash in her side, grinned at her enemy.
It's not Bacchus, she snapped. The Amazons have some powerful friends, as well.
Alti's eyes widened as the trees nearby seemed to come to life and figures extracted themselves from the trunks. The man had a dark beard, his reddish hair under a hat of fir tree branches and a long cloak and loincloth made of moss. His skin was green now that he had stepped away from the tree. The other figures were a dark haired woman and a teenage boy and girl, both with dark hair.
Together they surrounded the shaman and raised their hands over her and Alti screamed as the vines encircled her, wrapping her up tighter than a cocoon.
Forest spirits! You weren't to interfere in this realm, Alti screamed.
You brought in outside gods from foreign lands and they use our vines against our friends, the forest male explained.
The spread of your unnatural vampirism in the physical land was against the plan of the cosmos, the woman continued.
We seek to set right what has been made wrong, the teenager girl spoke. We restore balance to the forest.
Warrior! the male spoke firmly, Take her now, we have power only for a short time.
Xena whistled and was relieved when Otere and Yakut appeared from behind the boulders. They quickly grabbed Alti at either end and carried her behind the rocks. Otere dashed back and helped the warrior stand, placing Xena's arm over her shoulders.
Xena glanced back and watched the forest deities merging into the tree trunks and thus disappearing.
When she and Otere rounded the boulders the warrior wasn't surprised to find Alti screaming endlessly.
Otere and Yakut had placed her in a cage made of human bones, the bones of Alti's victims. While the Amazon warriors had fought the vampires, Otere and Yakut had made the cage and prepared the place for Alti.
The shaman screamed in rage and struggled against the vines still holding her.
Finish it, Xena, Yakut urged.
The warrior stumbled to her knees next to the shaman and pulled a dagger out of her boot.
I swear, Xena, Alti snapped, if you do this I will haunt you for eternity! I will find a way!
Maybe, Xena said wearily, but for now, die!
Alti screamed as the blade flashed in the unnatural moonlight of the Spirit realm.
Xena fell back coughing as Yakut and Otere moved in to work over the cage. The warrior watched as Otere poured pine resin over the bones and the body of the shaman and Yakut chanted.
The warrior wiped at the blood flowing from her mouth as the forest spirits appeared once again and moved the Amazon shaman and Queen aside to stand over the cage. They wrapped their arms around each other and the Amazons and Greek turned away as a brilliant light surrounded the family of forest deities.
When they could look in that direction once again, they found the deities gone and the cage was now a solid piece of amber. The pine resin had been hardened magically to hold the dark shaman.
Everyone's heads snapped around towards the forest as banshee-like shrieks filled the air.
Yakut! Get Otere and get out! Xena screamed, trying to sit up. Bacchus knows his ally is dead and he's attacking with the Bacchae.
We can fight them with you! Otere protested, pulling out her sword as the Bacchae swarmed closer.
No! They won't kill me, Bacchus wants me alive but they'll drain you both! Get out! Xena snapped, getting to her knees and pulling her chakram into her hand.
No! Yakut protested.
Just go and protect Sasha! Xena ordered and sighed with relief as the two disappeared back into the physical realm.
The warrior replaced her chakram at her side and fell forward onto her hands. She could feel the blood flowing from the gash in her side and coughed up even more blood.
Xena felt darkness crowding her as clawed hands reached for her.
Welcome, Xena! a booming bass voice greeted her as the warrior raised her head. She was being held between two Bacchae and didn't have the strength to pull herself to her feet.
The warrior looked just like she felt; like she had been through one hell of a battle and had barely gotten through it.
Bacchus, with his dark purple skin gleaming and shimmering cape flashing in the torchlight, landed in front of the warrior. His mouth full of sharp teeth grinning, the Lord of Wine, Vine and Bacchae, raised the warrior's head up by her hair.
You seem to have gotten the better of Alti, he commented. I didn't think that was possible once I knew her strength and skills. Still, you've always amazed me.
Maybe I can surprise you again, Xena muttered.
Bacchus laughed heartily at the wounded warrior. Then he looked thoughtful.
You know, if you die in this realm, you're stuck here. I can't have that, he mumbled and waved his hand over the warrior's head and Xena was enveloped in a purple haze.
When she opened her eyes the warrior found she could stand on her feet, barely. She had been given a small dose of healing, she realized. That was something she could never get used to, she thought to herself, being healed by gods. Dying one minute only to be perfectly healthy the next. Well, not perfectly, she thought. Bacchus had given her a little more time but still left her injured and weak.
Do you want me to thank you? she demanded and again Bacchus laughed at her.
No, that would be a little much for you, Bacchus agreed.
Xena noticed that the Bacchae didn't ease up on their grip on her wrists.
Xena started to struggle when Bacchus surprised her with his massive fist across her nose. By the time the warrior's vision cleared, Xena found she was chained to the cave wall. She frowned at the drops of blood at her feet and the blood coating her wrists. Someone had been there before her and they hadn't enjoyed the chains.
Look over here, Xena, Bacchus called and moved aside to show Gabrielle laying on pillows and furs.
Xena tried not to show any emotion as she took in the sight of her mate. It appeared that Gabrielle was unconscious or asleep and she was naked. The warrior felt her heart skip a beat at the sight of the bard's bloody back and wounded wrists, the bandages filled with blood and the skin below the wrists was scrapped raw and open.
Gabrielle! the warrior shouted, almost screaming.
The bard opened her eyes slightly and Xena could see the lack of focus and redness that told the warrior Gabrielle was either drugged or drunk. The bard closed her eyes again without raising her head or focusing on Xena.
Gabrielle! Xena tried again and this time the bard didn't even respond.
Bacchus laughed and sat down next to Xena's mate. With surprising gentleness he stroked her short blonde hair and grinned at the warrior.
Want me to describe what she's been through and what she's enjoyed? Bacchus taunted.
I swear I'll cut you into little pieces! Xena promised.
Not likely, Xena, the god of wine laughed and ran a claw along the bard's back, instantly bringing a cry of pain out of Gabrielle.
Xena grimaced as her mate flinched in pain and grabbed the fur under her.
Stop it! Xena yelled but Bacchus just smiled and leaned over next to Gabrielle's ear.
Would you like me to stop, little bard? he whispered.
Xena's eyes narrowed as she watched Gabrielle biting her lip, attempting to keep from answering.
Xena screamed in rage and Gabrielle screamed in pain as Bacchus scratched another bloody trail down the bard's back.
It can stop, Bacchus purred. It can stop forever if you just so say. Nothing but pleasures the rest of your days.
Gabrielle, don't do it! Xena screamed but she wasn't sure if her mate heard her as Bacchus ran all five fingernails on one hand down Gabrielle's back.
Two men grabbed the bard's arms to keep her in place as she screamed and thrashed in pain.
Stop, please! Gabrielle begged.
You accept my world? Bacchus whispered.
Yes! the bard whispered, tears streaming down her face, the exhaustion showing clearly in the hollow eyes. Her lips were already bloody from her fangs biting into them to keep from screaming or giving in.
No, please! Apollo, Zeus, Artemis, anyone! Xena whispered as Bacchus laughed in triumph.
The God of Wine turned, his yellow eyes glinting with amusement.
Even your Northern gods won't venture here, Xena, he goaded.
The men released the bard and she dropped back onto the furs with a sigh of relief.
Gabrielle! Xena screamed and the bard looked up. The warrior had a moment of hope, as it seemed that Gabrielle actually comprehended that Xena was there with her.
Xena felt tears escaping her own eyes as tears flowed down Gabrielle's face and the bard buried her head in the furs to avoid looking at her mate.
Torture, alcohol and drugs don't count as Free Will, damnit! Xena protested.
My world, I make the rules, Bacchus sneered.
Xena felt her breath quicken as Bacchus pulled out a dagger and sliced open his wrist while watching the warrior. With a malicious smile, he lifted Gabrielle's head up slightly and placed the bleeding wrist in front of her.
Xena increased her struggles against the chains, Gabrielle's blood actually helping the warrior work her hands through the restraints but it was slow going and painful. Pain Xena was ignoring.
No! she screamed as Gabrielle reached out for the wrist.
Gabrielle heard Xena's voice and looked up into her mate's blue eyes and felt a moment of hope. Then she noticed the chained wrists and Xena's desperate expression.
Flashes of images and memories of the last few hours spent in the hands of Bacchus flooded the bard's mind and Gabrielle felt her head drop in defeat.
After all that had happened, remembering the different faces, hands, lips and bodies; Gabrielle knew she couldn't face Xena again.
Then the pain, searing down her back, caused her to scream. Her back was already bloody from the whip and this was beyond agony. Hands grabbed her, holding her in place for more torture as she screamed again.
Then the promise of release, the promise of no more pain, ever.
The scent of blood reached her and Gabrielle hesitated a moment, the scent wasn't right, something was wrong. The blood wasn't Xena's.
Then the pain flared again as something sharp trailed down her back. Gabrielle hissed in agony and exhaustion and grabbed for the wrist in front of her. With a quick motion of her head, her fangs sank into the flesh surrounding the wound and the bard began to drink deeply.
No! someone screamed nearby and it caused the bard to hesitate for a moment but she returned to the wrist with a growl, feeling the blood hitting her system, sending energy back through her body.
Damn you, Bacchus! Xena screamed and thrashed against her chains as she watched her mate drinking from the God of Wine and Bacchae. The warrior could feel her own life ebbing away from the wounds outside and inside her body.
Gabrielle pulled back from Bacchus' wrist and Xena felt a chill run over her body as the bard looked around the cave.
Yellow eyes looked deeply into blue ones and Xena wasn't sure there was anything left of her mate. She was almost positive of it when Gabrielle traced her tongue over her fangs, taking in Xena's bloody wrists.
Gabrielle, Xena growled softly.
Take them! Bacchus shouted and Xena's view of Gabrielle was suddenly blocked by Bacchae, maenads and humans crowding and grabbing her. The warrior tried to fight as someone unlocked her chains but a net thrown over the wounded Xena took most of her energy.
Xena screamed with rage as she was carried through the cave to a smaller and darker cavern room. The warrior growled when she was dropped onto fur bedding in the room.
As Xena untangled herself from the net her senses alerted her that she wasn't alone in the room. The warrior dived away from the net as a figure landed on the tangled mess, fangs flashing.
Xena jumped to her feet and took in the sight of the very enraged and blood hungry Bacchae that was once her mate. Someone had thrown a skimpy black dress over the bard but nothing else.
Gabrielle! Xena growled as the Bacchae began moving towards her, slowly. Stalking the warrior.
Come on, fight it! You've fought it before! Xena encouraged.
The door to the room opened and both Bacchae and warrior turned at the noise. Xena wasn't surprised to see Bacchus standing there, filling the small space. He grinned at her snarl.
You have a choice, Xena, he sneered. Let Gabrielle turn you or kill her. Either way you will be lost. If you kill your mate you'll never forgive yourself and won't be the warrior you were. If you turn Bacchae in this realm then you'll be Bacchae in the physical world and mine.
Never! Xena snapped, her eyes darting back and forth, trying to keep an eye on both Bacchae and Bacchae lord.
She's already mine, Xena, Bacchus taunted and threw something at the warrior's feet.
Another chill passed over the warrior as she took in the dryad bone. Bacchus laughed and slammed the door shut.
Xena knew that Bacchus wouldn't risk opening that door any time soon. He wouldn't let Xena near him, even as a Bacchae again until he was sure she was under his control. The warrior wouldn't get a second chance to ram that dryad bone into his chest if she turned Bacchae. He would wait until she had no will left.
Xena instinctively grabbed up the dryad bone as she heard Gabrielle growl near her.
Xena also knew she could never drive that dryad bone into Gabrielle except that she had once promised the bard never to let her become a full Bacchae.
Otere sat across from Sasha as they watched over Xena's unconscious form. She carefully watched the semi-conscious child gently swaying to the chanting and drumming as her eyes focused on another realm.
Suddenly the child cried out and fell backwards.
Before Otere could move, Sasha was up on her knees and examining her mother's throat.
They both thought their hearts would stop when they saw the fang marks on the warrior's neck, blood slowly flowing from the wounds.
Sasha? Otere questioned, the panic evident on her face.
It's Gabrielle, Sasha answered, tears beginning to flow down her face.
Pull your mother back! We can still save her! Otere demanded.
It's too late, Gabrielle is a full Bacchae and just bit my mom, the child said sadly, falling back into a sitting position next to her mother.
No, Otere whispered as Xena's body jerked.
Bacchus sent three Bacchae with torches through the door first. Xena had been right, the God of Wine and Blood wasn't taking any chances on the warrior ambushing him again. He had experienced a dryad bone through the chest courtesy of Xena once before and it hadn't been a pleasant experience.
The Bacchae weren't anxious to put themselves in the path of the Warrior Princess either but obeyed their master and entered the room cautiously.
Seeing two figures on the sleeping furs inspired a little more courage in the creatures, especially when neither figure moved.
One of the Bacchae, braver than the other two, moved closer to the figures and leaned over the bard.
Both of the other Bacchae quickly retreated several feet when they heard their sister hiss in reaction to what she was seeing.
What is it? Bacchus demanded from the doorway.
Dryad bone! the creature lisped, She has a dryad bone through her chest!
Damn! Bacchus swore, looking down at the small blonde on the floor. What about Xena?
The Bacchae moved around the figures and knelt down next to the warrior. She raised her yellow eyes to her master's a moment later.
She breaths but barely, she's lost a lot of blood, she commented.
Bacchus, a little more secure of his safety now that he knew where that dryad bone was, moved into the room and looked down at the two women.
Why didn't Gabrielle explode or turn into dust? one of the other Bacchae asked softly.
Probably because she's immortal, Bacchus muttered. Bring Xena into the main chamber. We'll still turn her into one of us.
The Bacchae scurried to grab the warrior's arms and legs. Bacchus took in the flow of blood from Xena's nose and mouth and the paleness of her skin. It wouldn't be long, he thought.
I'll have one of you! he growled, glancing back down at the bard. I never thought Xena had the strength to kill you.
Mom is still alive but just barely, Sasha commented.
Otere watched the child closely; it had taken Sasha more than half a candle-mark to calm down long enough to focus her back into a half trance. The Amazon Queen and those guarding the unconscious bodies could see the blood oozing from the warrior and the non-moving form of Gabrielle and everyone had worried expressions.
Pull her back! Otere snapped.
She'll die within moments if we do, Sasha said simply, a tear streaking down her cheek.
Something's gone wrong! Otere cried desperately. She couldn't have planned for this!
We wait, Sasha said firmly, sounding much older than her 11 spring seasons.
Bacchus leaned back on his temporary throne, watching the lost spirits of the realm reveling in one of his famous bacchanalia orgies. Bodies were entwined everywhere and it seemed to the Lord of Excess that it was like looking onto a sea of flesh, moving in waves.
The god glanced over at the unconscious warrior, gauging her blood loss and remaining life. He didn't want to turn Xena until the last moment; he wanted the warrior totally unaware and unconscious.
Bacchus was still angry about losing the bard, Gabrielle. He had gotten accustomed to tormenting her with the blood cravings whenever he was bored. He never planned on Xena actually killing her own mate.
It had delighted him to badger and tempt the bard into the darkness. Xena had been right about that when she confronted Alti with the observation, both the dark shaman and the god wanted Gabrielle to fall. Watching a child of Apollo give in to the darkness appealed to their perverse natures. That was the main reason Bacchus had agreed to Alti's insane plan of attacking the couple in the Spirit Realm, not because he wanted Xena, Bacchus wanted Gabrielle more.
When the bard had turned Bacchae the first time, Bacchus hadn't even bothered to find out her name. She had been someone to use to get to Xena, one of his most persistent enemies. Then he had discovered that she was the child of Apollo and that Xena's feelings for her traveling mate extended beyond friendship.
That made Gabrielle highly attractive to the dark god. Now he had lost her.
Deep in his anger, Bacchus growled and several maenads and Bacchae near him scampered away in fright.
The god yelled out in surprise and covered his eyes as a bright light suddenly filled the cavern, sending the Bacchae screaming for the shadows. Unlike other vampires, the Bacchae could tolerate daylight but preferred the shadows of the deep Bacchae Forest or the caves during the day. This light was much too bright and reminded Bacchus of the noonday summer sun.
The light dimmed and slowly faded to a slightly glow.
Bacchus howled in rage as he took in the sight of Gabrielle sitting cross-legged in the middle of the cave floor, the light radiating around her.
Behind stood Yakut with her hands resting on the bard's shoulders and lying in front of Gabrielle was an unconscious Xena.
What? Bacchus demanded with a roaring shout.
Gabrielle was never stabbed with the dryad bone, Yakut explained to the irate god. The bone was cut in half and you merely thought she was stabbed because Xena was still alive and not Bacchae.
Gabrielle was a full Bacchae, she couldn't resist! Bacchus protested.
You forgot their blood binding, Yakut smiled a calm smile as she concentrated on her friend.
Bacchus growled, realizing that the shaman was acting as a link between the Greeks and the physical world and had established a link with the bard now that Gabrielle was in a meditative state.
Xena's blood reconnected them and brought Gabrielle back, Yakut grinned. Xena risked her life and soul on the chance.
No! Bacchus screamed in rage.
Several Bacchae flew at the Amazons and warrior and screamed in pain as they hit the light surrounding the three women.
Gabrielle, without opening her eyes, extended her hands over Xena and Bacchus growled in frustration as a purple light enveloped the warrior.
After a moment the purple glow around Xena was gone and the bright light still remained. Yakut's grin got even wider as Xena sat up, taking in her surroundings.
The warrior broke into a large smile of her own when she saw Gabrielle and Yakut.
It's time to end his presence in this realm, Xena, Yakut said simply.
You mean it's time to kick some ass! the warrior said enthusiastically and was pleased at the faint smile it brought to her concentrating mate.
Yes, do your thing, warrior, Yakut smiled. "Warriors," the shaman shook her head.
Xena leaped to her feet and drew her chakram. With a familiar grin that usually sent chills up the spines of whoever she was facing, the warrior shouted one of her war cries and flipped into action.
Bacchus screamed and shouted at the others to grab all of them and kill them.
The warrior leaped over several Bacchae heads and rebounded off the cave wall to land behind the three chasing her. The Bacchae didn't even have time to turn around before they exploded into dust; Xena's chakram decapitating them.
Xena laughed a manic laugh as two more Bacchae went down to her chakram. Yakut shook her head as the warrior flipped over three men and kicked two of them in the back of their heads and severed the middle one's spine at the neck with the chakram.
Yakut turned her attention to Gabrielle as the Amazon felt the energy surrounding them beginning to hum, causing the hair on the back of her neck to stand up. The shaman felt the energy suddenly wane and bent over to Gabrielle's ear.
Come on, Gabrielle, you can do it! There is nothing but the light! Yakut urged and felt the energy increase in strength again.
Yakut cried out as the energy danced across her skin, it felt like she was being sun burned from the sun reflecting off new snow. Instinctively, the Amazon held out her hands and energy bolts shot out from her hands, bursting a Bacchae into flames.
Bacchus howled his rage and charged at the shaman and bard while drawing his sword.
Xena, hearing his shout, reversed the direction of her fighting and easily took out three more Bacchae on her way to stand between her mate, Yakut and the enraged Greek god.
The warrior grinned as her sword clashed with the sword of Bacchus. She liked seeing the rage in his face.
Yakut began aiming the energy balls flying from her hands and Bacchae, maenads and party spirits begin falling to the light of Apollo flowing from the bard.
The battle between Xena and Bacchus was fast and furious. The Greek god wasn't as good as Ares but Xena had lost the ability to do serious harm to the gods, so they both of them discovered that they were fairly well matched and neither could get in a serious blow to the other.
After a few minutes of flying around the cavern, rebounding off cave walls, kicking each other in the chest and back, slashing repeatedly at each other, Bacchus and Xena paused.
Xena looked around and then grinned at the God of Wine.
The cave was littered with the spirit bodies of the humans and maenads, the servants of Bacchus. All the Bacchae had been destroyed, either by Xena's chakram or Gabrielle's energy of light.
Looks like you're on your own, Bacchus, Xena sneered.
The God of Bacchae looked around and then growled at the warrior, the worry showing plainly on his face.
Go home, Bacchus, she urged, or we'll send you there painfully. How long did it take you to recover from that dryad bone last time we fought?
Bacchus roared his anger and raised his sword to charge the warrior when Xena dropped to a crouch. The God of Wine looked over the warrior to see Gabrielle and Yakut looking at him with their hands extended.
No! You're mine! he managed to scream just as four energy bolts of light hit him in the chest.
Xena flinched and narrowed her eyes as he exploded into pieces and the pieces into dust.
The warrior turned and sheathed her sword just in time to catch Gabrielle as she collapsed.
Never, Gabrielle whispered to Bacchus' passing spirit and sank into darkness.
Get us out of here, Yakut, Xena said simply, holding the bard close.
My pleasure, the shaman grinned and Xena felt like she was falling through space.
Gabrielle coughed and felt hands and arms helping her sit up and someone pressing a mug of something to her lips.
Flashes of the bacchanalia invaded the bard's mind and she began thrashing.
Easy, little one, a soothing voice cut through the haze between the nightmare and the waking. It's okay, you're back. I've got you.
Xena? Gabrielle felt herself asking softly, recognizing the strong arms holding her from behind. She managed to focus her eyes and saw Yakut holding a mug as the shaman knelt beside her and Xena. The bard nodded and accepted the water gratefully.
We're back? she asked softly, trying to accept the sight of Sasha smiling at her and the Amazons surrounding them.
Yes, Xena's voice answered near her ear.
Then the pain began to seep in as well and she shifted uncomfortably in her warriors' arms. Gabrielle went pale when she raised her hands and found that someone had removed her bracers and she had fresh bandages on her wrists and half way up her arms. Blood was still trying to seep through the cloth.
No! she whispered, beginning to tremble with the overwhelming memories.
It's okay, you're safe, Xena said firmly.
No, it was real. It wasn't a nightmare! Gabrielle whispered, closing her eyes as tears began flowing down her face.
Xena, Otere's voice carried softly to the bard as she felt her mind trying to reject everything.
Gabrielle felt her body being lifted into strong and safe arms as the blackness of shock and denial hit.
Otere sat down next to Yakut at one of the tables in the food hall several candle-marks later. Both looked haggard but relaxed.
How long since anyone had a break in this life? Otere asked somewhat bitterly.
I don't remember anymore, Yakut admitted.
Do you know everything they've been through? Do the gods have it in for them in particular? Otere demanded.
Well, we know that Xena's path of redemption is a difficult one, Yakut commented, accepting a mug of hot tea from one of the kitchen workers. Otere also took one and drank deeply from the hot liquid.
Yeah, but Gabrielle gets caught up in that. Otere countered. She's nothing but light and love and she's been injured by the gods so many times now that I'm losing count!
I know, how many times can one survive being crucified? Yakut agreed.
Now she's in emotional turmoil and won't even let Xena or Sasha near her, Otere complained. Haven't we been through this before?
I know, I know, Yakut said wearily. When she killed Queen Arja in the Spirit realm and went into catatonic shock. This time is different though.
What happened with Bacchus? What did he do to her? Otere asked.
Otere, I don't know if I can talk about it, Yakut frowned at her Queen.
She's my friend, my sister Queen and both of them are hurting, Otere argued.
Yes, Yakut nodded and glanced around to see how close the nearest Amazon was. The last thing she wanted was rampant rumors and half-truths about the bard and warrior. She and others were already having enough trouble accepting Gabrielle being half Bacchae after their recent dealings with the vampiir, the vampires of the North.
Bacchus beat her, forced alcohol down her throat, drugged her, and then had his Bacchae seduce her, Yakut said simply, clenching her mug in anger. She had gotten part of the story from Sasha and pieced the rest together with Xena when they had tended the bard's wounded body. She could still see the massive wounds the whip and the claws of Bacchus had caused down and across Gabrielle's back. Yakut had also flinched when they had tended the bard's wounded wrists, once again open all the way through from seven inch Roman spikes. On top of that had been various cuts, bruises, scratches, and Bacchae bites.
The bard had wept quietly as they tended her body, refusing to look Xena or Yakut in the eye and wouldn't answer any questions. Lying on her stomach, Gabrielle had buried her head in under a sleeping fur.
Yakut had thought her heart would break when she and Xena discovered the blood, bruising and bite marks on the inside of Gabrielle's legs. Yakut had glanced quickly at the warrior and wasn't surprised to see the look of cold rage spreading across the warrior's face.
Yakut felt her earlier irrational anger at Gabrielle's vampire blood fading away after seeing the torture the bard had been through. Tortured at the hands of vampires, like Yakut.
Seduce? Like the vampires did Xena? Otere frowned, bringing Yakut back to the conversation.
No, Bacchus wanted Gabrielle to give over willingly so he set about breaking her will, Yakut explained. First pain and then pleasure, then more pain and the promise of more pleasure. She was drunk and drugged but aware.
Oh, gods, Otere whispered. A flogging, beating, crucifixion, being drugged and drunk, how in the name of the Sun Goddess, did she resist for so long?
Her love for Xena and her stubbornness, I think, Yakut managed a slight smile.
What happens now?
I don't know, she's feeling guilty because she enjoyed the pleasures and finally gave into Bacchus to end the pain, Yakut growled at the thought of the Greek god. She feels she betrayed Xena.
Does Xena feel that way?
I don't know, I don't think so, Yakut answered thoughtfully. It's not like Gabrielle was in her right mind during any of it.
Isn't that how the couple got Sasha? Otere smiled to herself. Gabrielle says Xena wasn't in her right mind when that happened with one of the Greek gods. Maybe Xena will remember that and forgive Gabrielle.
I hope so, for everyone's sake.
Xena carefully applied healing salve to Gabrielle's back wounds, grateful that the bard was letting the warrior near her after four days.
The bard had been an emotional and physical wreck for the entire time.
We need to talk about it, little one, Xena said softly.
I can't, Gabrielle whispered, keeping her eyes closed.
We've been through a lot, Gabrielle, Xena continued. You've forgiven me for the worst crimes anyone can commit, even sleeping with Ares.
Xena frowned when Gabrielle failed to show any emotion at that one.
You didn't do anything wrong, Xena tried again.
You never betrayed a mate, the bard said softly, the bitterness thick in her voice.
"Yes, I did. With Ares, remember?"
"You didn't even remember me or that you had changed. We've been through that," Gabrielle muttered.
"And we'll go through this with you Xena countered and shoved the bard back down on the furs when the blonde started to rise up in protest. Stay there, I'm not done with your back.
The warrior could see her mate's jaw clench and was pleased, any emotion could be an improvement, she thought, even anger.
Gabrielle, you know I was an abuser, I hurt men and women physically, emotionally and sexually, Xena felt her own jaw tightening. This wasn't something they talked about and it shamed Xena to even let the thoughts run through her mind, let alone talk about it out loud. Alti had forced the warrior to reveal the most horrible things about her past to Gabrielle, trying to crush Xena and her relationship with the bard. Gabrielle had surprised Xena by forgiving her of the Warlord's rapes, even after the bard had suffered through numerous beatings and assaults at the hands of the Romans herself. Xena had never expected that level of forgiveness from anyone but especially from Gabrielle. On one side of the coin, Xena knew the bard loved her beyond anything and would forgive her anything. On the other side of the coin, Gabrielle was a survivor of rape and beatings, how could the bard forgive Xena for having done that to others when Gabrielle knew what it was like?
One of the most horrible things I did to the women was to make them enjoy it at times, Xena admitted in a soft voice, silently cursing her shaking hands.
What do you mean?
The body responds to stimulation, even when the mind doesn't, Xena was grateful the bard was asking questions and talking too but she wasn't amused with the conversation. The warrior gritted her teeth to continue. I could make a woman enjoy being assaulted at my hands.
Xena, that wasn't you, you've changed, Gabrielle protested at the self-hatred in the warrior's voice and tried to rise up to her hands but was pushed down again by her mate.
Quiet, I'm comforting you this time, the warrior ordered and grinned when Gabrielle actually laughed. It was a good sound to Xena. Then the bard's face grew serious again.
I wasn't raped, Xena, she protested. I enjoyed most of it and didn't fight it.
You were raped, Gabrielle, Xena countered. After being beaten, drugged, gotten drunk and then tortured, the body and mind welcomed the pleasant sensations happening to it. It was much worse than some idiot getting a girl drunk and throwing her down on a pile of hay.
Xena was pleased to see the bard frowning in thought.
I'll be back in a bit, I'm going to check on Sasha, the warrior said simply, pulling the soft cloth over the bard's back. Xena was going to give her mate some time to think about what they had talked about.
Gabrielle heard Xena leave but she was still in deep thought over what Xena had said. The warrior had been right; she had forgiven Xena for being a Warlord, a killer, and a rapist. Why couldn't she expect Xena to forgive her for the bacchanalia?
That wasn't it, the bard cursed herself, it was that she couldn't forgive herself. It just kept getting worse, first with Nikki and now this!
Images and sensations again flooded her mind and Gabrielle quickly pulled herself to the edge of the sleeping furs and grabbed for a pot as her body physically rejected the memories.
It was becoming a common occurrence for the bard; she was finding that keeping anything down on her stomach was becoming a nightmare as her body responded to her guilt and the pain of her wounds.
Tears of pain, anger, and self-hatred streaked her face as her body finally settled past the dry heaves and let Gabrielle move back onto the sleeping furs to weep once again.
Outside the hut Xena frowned at the sound of her mate's suffering, her heart breaking at the sound of it. She resisted going back in to comfort Gabrielle though; she'd let the bard have a little more time.
The warrior smiled slightly when she spotted Yakut and Otere at one of the tables in the food hall and quickly joined them. Her smile widened as Sasha spotted her and ran into her mother's arms. Xena moved over and let Sasha sit next to her.
How is Gabrielle? Otere questioned immediately.
Still suffering, both with the physical and the mental, Xena responded.
She shook her head as one of the kitchen workers placed a plate of hot food in front of her but Yakut shoved it back towards the warrior.
You haven't eaten much in days, you need your strength, Yakut insisted and the warrior finally nodded wearily.
Why are her wounds so bad? Otere continued with the questions. Wouldn't they have healed faster than this?
I would have thought so, Xena agreed. Maybe it's because she used that healing energy to save me. Sasha says I was moments away from dying.
What do we do to help? Yakut asked.
I don't know, comfort her as best we can, the warrior shrugged helplessly.
That night Xena was awakened by the whimpers and thrashing of her mate, just like the previous three nights. She moved quickly past the fire to kneel down next to the low single bed across from the one Xena usually shared with Gabrielle. Ever since returning from the Spirit Realm, the bard had been sleeping in a single bed.
Xena gently shook the bard and began to stroke the hair off Gabrielle's forehead.
Xena? the bard whispered, partly opening her eyes.
I'm here, little one, the warrior answered. It's okay, you're safe.
Take me home, Xena, Gabrielle said softly, please.
I don't know if we can make it through the snow, Xena frowned.
Please, I want to go home, the bard reached out and touched Xena's hand, causing the warrior to smile. It was the first sign of affection and contact Gabrielle had initiated since the battle with Alti and Bacchus.
Gabrielle, you can't even use your hands yet, Xena protested.
I can't take anymore and I want to go home. I want to see our families, I want to watch Solan's child grow up and I want to go back to the inn, Gabrielle said firmly.
Xena glanced over and saw Sasha in the faint firelight, watching her moms. The child nodded her agreement to the bard's request.
Okay, we'll leave as soon as possible before the next storm hits, Xena promised.
The bard smiled slightly and pulled Xena's hand to her cheek.
Want to sleep next to me? Xena asked softly and hopefully.
I'd like to try, Gabrielle answered slowly.
As the bard lay on her stomach next to the warrior, the bard reached out for Xena and let the warrior snuggle up next to her and place an arm across Gabrielle's lower back where the lash had missed.
Xena thought about the visions Alti had shown her. The vision of Gabrielle lying on a cave floor with a dryad bone sticking out of her chest and Xena lying next to her, bloody and not moving - that had come true. The vision of Gabrielle enjoying the sexual pleasures of the bacchanalia had come true.
Xena was worried about the other two visions and was as anxious as Gabrielle to get back to Greece as well.
The visions seemed to be flooding her mind as she began to drift off into sleep. The visions of Gabrielle screaming in pain and covered in sweat and the sight of Solan looking down at an arrow in his chest before falling.
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