A Web of Spun Crystal Part Three
by Cecily Hawkins
Disclaimer recap: Whole lotta borrowin' goin' on. No harm intended to the original copyright holders. Violence: Disney. Subtext: By the end of this section, you should have the answer to that question.
Gabrielle awoke in nowhere. She opened her eyes and saw above her a pure black sky, without moon or stars, and yet there was light. The ground - or floor - beneath her was smooth and hard and cold. The only sound was her own breathing.
She had been at a ball, she remembered that. She remembered also the nagging sense of wrongness that had driven her to find a way out. Her fancy clothes, she noted vaguely, had vanished with the bubble. But how had she gotten to the ball in the first place, and why?
"What was I doing?" she murmured aloud. She sat up and looked around. Tables. Rows and rows of tables.
Gabrielle climbed to her feet. She still could not judge whether she stood inside or outside. If this was a room, it was the largest display hall she had ever seen, with walls and ceiling too far away to be visible. But the smooth floor indicated that she wasn't outside, and who would store such a collection outside, anyway? For all around her were tables displaying vases and piles of scrolls and books.
She looked at the nearest table, which supported several black-and-orange decorated two-handled vases. "Amphoras," she said, recognizing the design from art classes, and then frowned. Greek or Roman, how did the plural go? "Amphorae?"
As if in a museum, she dared not touch one, but crouched to get a better look at the designs on its sides. The pictures represented a man wrestling a lion. "These must be Hercules' labors," she mused aloud. She peeked at the others on the table. There was a hydra, and a boar, and a bull, and a warrior woman... "Queen Hippolyta?" There was something familiar about the Amazon, but she couldn't place it.
Gabrielle took a step backwards and collided with something soft that "oof!"ed. She whirled, "Oh, I'm so sorry..."
The person she had accidentally intersected with was short, with gnarled features, possibly goblinish, but female, and old. White hair hung down to her knees. "You should watch where you're going, young lady," she rasped.
"I was looking, just the wrong way," she apologized.
"You'll never get anywhere looking the wrong way," the woman admonished.
Gabrielle frowned. Where was she going? Where did she need to get to? "I was looking for something."
"You've come to the right place, then, dear," the woman smiled. "You can find anything here. All the stories ever written." She shuffled over to a table full of scrolls. "Here's "Broken Arrow", and here's "About Artemis", and here's "Lao Ma's Kiss". Anything you can think of."
"Stories?" she asked vaguely. "I like stories."
"Of course you do." The woman stepped to another table and picked up a few slim cloth-bound books. "Here's "Snow, Glass, Apples", yes, and here's "The Kith of the Elf-Folk." You'll like these." She placed the volumes in Gabrielle's hands.
"There are so many," she said dizzily, turning her head this way and that. "How will I find what I need?"
The woman waved a hand. "I can help you! I know just what you need." She scurried over and picked up a decorative vase. "These stories. This is what you need. They're about a warrior and a bard..."
Gabrielle peered at the pictures on the vase. There was a woman carrying weaponry; a sword and some sort of frisbee. And there was a horse, and another woman with a staff.
"...and the bard helps her on her path to redemption, and they have all sorts of adventures. There are hundreds of stories about them here!"
A staff. "I had a staff." She dropped the books she was holding to grab the vase away from the goblin. That warrior woman... "Xena!"
"What's that you say, dear?" smiled the little old woman tolerantly.
"I have to get out of here."
"But don't you want to stay and read the stories?"
"I can't just stay here and read other people's stories for the rest of my life, I have my own story to finish..." And finally the rest of the pieces fell into place. "I have to save Lily!"
She threw the vase down onto the floor, shattering it.
The sky opened.
At the Gates
"My lady? My lady?"
The voice above her sounded concerned. Gabrielle squinted through the brightness. "Eppie?" she said at last.
The Amazon breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness." She offered a hand and pulled the groaning Gabrielle up to her feet. "You must have hit your head."
"I was dreaming, I think. And then I thought I was awake but I was only dreaming again. Or something."
Her wonderings were stopped as a pair of skinny arms wrapped around her. "You safe! Attis glad!"
Attis needs a bath, she did not say. "Where's Salmone?"
"We haven't seen him since you disappeared, your highness," said Eppie. "He wasn't with you?"
Gabrielle shook her head and winced. "No, he wasn't. And you really don't have to call me highness. At least, not out here."
"Yes, my lady," said the Amazon dutifully.
Gabrielle smiled. Close enough. She tugged at her skirt, straightening it. "Well, maybe he'll turn up. In the meantime, we need to hurry to that castle."
Eppie nodded. "If I may ask, my lady, what exactly is our quest? What do we seek in the castle?"
"My baby sister. Lily. Xena has her."
"Attis... Lily... brother!" beamed Attis.
"Close enough," said Gabrielle.
"Regarding the castle, my lady, I have good news and bad news," the Amazon reported.
"The good news is, the castle is just over that rise." Eppie pointed her spear past Gabrielle, who turned quickly and gasped. There it was, just beyond a hill, the gloomy brown castle she had been searching for all this time, finally within her reach. The Amazon continued, "The bad news is, there's a goblin village in the way."
"Oh." Gabrielle frowned. "Do you think they'll try to stop us?"
"Quite likely. We must be on our guard." Eppie pulled herself up straight. "I am ready to defend you."
"I don't want to fight them. There has to be a way to get past peacefully." Gabrielle pondered. "Maybe they just won't notice."
Eppie's expression was dubious.
Lily was asleep, nested in a quilt that had been brought down from the queen's bedroom. Xena watched her, a wistful look on her strong features. She reached out and brushed the baby's cheek with a finger. So soft, so helpless. Lily made a snuffling noise and shifted in her sleep, leaning into the hand of the Goblin Queen. Unbidden, Xena's thoughts returned to her interrupted moment with Gabrielle.
"Your majesty?" The voice was hesitant.
She pulled her hand away and turned to face the pointy-eared goblin, her features the impassive mask of royalty. "Report."
"The girl and her companions have reached the city."
"See that all the preparations have been made."
"Yes, your majesty," the goblin replied, and fled.
Xena looked up at the grand clock. Twelve-thirty-four. "Almost," she said to herself, then reached for the baby. "Time to wake up."
The castle was encircled by crooked houses in various states of disrepair. Some were the size of a human child's playhouse, others stacked up cramped levels and leaned against eachother for support. The lanes between them were littered with scraps of food and other garbage too
rotten to be identified. Gabrielle, Attis, and Eppie saw no one as they walked, but everywhere they were met with slamming shutters and lights blinking out.
"I think they're expecting us, my lady," cautioned Eppie.
Attis made a whimpering noise and reached for Gabrielle's hand. She petted it comfortingly. "Just keep going. Act like nothing is wrong." Then she paused. "Did you hear something?"
Eppie looked around. "I hear nothing."
"A sort of shuffling, like the sound you make when you're trying not to make any sound..."
With a yell, two bodies crashed to the ground.
One was a goblin, snarling and thrashing and trying to bite the person who was holding him down. And that person was a familiar-looking dwarf.
"Salmone! You came back!" cheered Gabrielle.
Salmone slammed his fist into the chin of the goblin, who went limp, and hopped to his feet. "Save the hello. Ambush!"
A wave of goblins descended upon them. They came out from the alleys and
down from the rooftops and up from sewer-like holes in the ground,
screaming and jeering and waving clubs and pitchforks and knives. The
foursome turned tail and ran, but the uneven paving stones made quick
movement dangerous, and the haphazard placement of buildings kept them swerving one way and another. Before they had a chance to realize it, they found themselves in a dead-end alley with a mass of goblins blocking their escape.
With Gabrielle's staff gone, Eppie was the only member of the party with a weapon. She positioned herself at the entrance and quickly knocked the knife out of the hand of the first goblin to oppose her, then tripped him and raised her spear to run him through.
"No! Don't kill him!" Gabrielle cried out.
"As you wish, my lady," said Eppie reluctantly. The goblin scrambled up and ran, but dozens more replaced him. The Amazon clearly could not hold them off forever.
"Since we're about to die," Salmone said, "I just wanted to apologize for giving you that fruit. If I had only known - "
But Gabrielle was not listening. "Attis! Do something!"
He brightened. "Attis call bird brothers!" He pursed his lips and whistled little trills.
Eppie slammed the butt of her spear against another of her opponents,
knocking his helmet down over his eyes, but her speed was lesser now as
she tired. And then, chirps and twitters began to answer Attis' call.
Tiny birds of many colors swooped down upon the goblins, pecking at their
exposed skin. The goblins tried to bat the birds away, but there were too many. Whining and wailing, they scattered, still harassed by winged enemies.
"Birds friends," Attis remarked with a touch of pride.
Gabrielle stepped to the mouth of the alley and poked her head out. It was clear. She gave the panting Eppie a hug. "Come on. Let's go in."
The World Falls Down
Once past the goblin ambush, progress was suspiciously easy. Nothing else attacked them. The castle gates stood slightly ajar, allowing the companions to squeeze through. No one hindered their progress through the castle, and they came without incident to the throne room.
It was empty.
Gabrielle picked up a quilt that had been lying, discarded, on the floor. It was warm and smelled vaguely of baby powder. "They were here." She looked around the room and spotted a large door. "That's where they must have gone." She took a few quick strides towards the door, then turned, looking at those who had followed her. "I have to face her alone."
Eppie blinked. "Why?"
"Because ..." It was a good question. "Because that's the way it's done," Gabrielle replied.
"Who says?" asked Salmone.
She smiled. "The story."
"Oh." The Amazon's shoulders relaxed. "Well, if that's the way it is, then that's the way it must be."
The dwarf nodded sadly, then looked down at his feet. "Before you go... I don't expect you to forgive me, but I never would have given you that fruit if I had known..."
She clasped his hands in hers. "It's okay. I forgive you."
He looked up. "You... you do?"
Gabrielle nodded. She thought to kiss him on the cheek, but remembered that for some reason he didn't like that, so just smiled, shook his hand, and stepped back to plant a kiss on Attis' forehead instead. He grinned foolishly at her. Then she hugged Eppie. "Thank you for everything."
"If you need us, my lady..."
"I'll call." And then she was through the door, and gone.
The clock stood at twelve fifty-one.
Gabrielle ran through dark hallways, her heart pounding as loudly as her feet, and burst at last through an archway into a giant open space. Her arms flailed wildly as she fell forward, to land... on the wall. She looked up - or sideways, or both - and gasped.
The room was enormous, and criss-crossed with staircases, balconies, and doorways all of different heights and set at strange angles, connected to each other without seeming logic. Gabrielle searched to find some common direction, but had no idea what was up or down, in or out, near or far, backward or forward. Rising steps inverted themselves and floors became ceilings without warning. She swayed dizzily, falling to her knees, and tried to crawl back to the opening she had entered from. But now that hallway seemed, from her perspective, to be a dark hole. Would gravity become normal again if she entered it, or would she fall and be smashed?
She pushed herself to her feet again, with another wordless wish for the staff she'd lost to steady her, and began to walk through the puzzle, seeking an exit on her own level.
Some unknowable sense caused Gabrielle to look up. There, far overhead,
was Xena, dressed as she had been when they had first met. She was
perched quite casually on a ledge that hung down from what Gabrielle
currently considered the ceiling. "I've been expecting you," the Goblin
"I've beaten you!" Gabrielle yelled. "I've beaten your precious Labyrinth!"
The echoes of Xena's laughter played hide-and-seek in the distortions of the room.
Gabrielle looked away. The distances were making her feel ill. "Come down from there and face me."
"Down?" the Queen chuckled. "I like it here."
"You're afraid," she challenged.
"So are you." Xena yawned. "Besides, someone has to keep an eye on the baby."
Her heart clenched. "Where's Lily?"
"Why, she's right there." Xena pointed to a staircase set on what was, to Gabrielle, a side wall. The baby was happily climbing and about to go over an edge. Gabrielle screamed. Lily continued moving, over the top and right down another side without falling. Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief.
Xena began to move, walking along ceilings, climbing descending stairs, dancing on the high walls. "It was inevitable. I knew you would be here, right on time. You couldn't stay away."
Time! Time was running out. She had to get to her sister. Gabrielle began to run, climbing the staircases set in her plane. "Lily!" she cried. "Lily!"
The baby did not turn to look, but continued crawling away.
Gabrielle lost track of direction and stumbled on a platform, landing
bruisingly on another flight of stairs. She scrambled to her feet and
began climbing again. In the distance she could see Xena, inverted,
walking down as she walked up. Or was it sideways? And no matter where she
ran, Lily was always somewhere else. She gritted her teeth at the
frustration of seeing what she wanted and not being able to take it. At
last she found herself standing on a ledge - with Lily crawling on the
underside. There was no way to reach her. There was no point to running through this madness any longer.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and jumped. The twisted room streaked like paints in the rain as she fell.
The floor she landed on felt tilted. It might have been simply another part of the spatial maze she had been leapt from, for the stonework was similar, but she could no longer see other planes and stairs. Near her was a window, a gothic arch, without glass, and through it she could see the upper portion of one wing of the castle. It was in ruins, clean-edged bricks worn down to pocked and pitted stones that were held in place more by inertia than mortar. Leaves and brambles, brown and
green, peeked from gaps. The weeds were winning.
The Goblin Queen stepped out from the shadow of a pillar, her booted step soft now. Her cloak was faded and worn, and strands of gray shone in her hair.
How long have we been in this world between worlds? Gabrielle wondered. Will I, too, grow old? She did not feel any changes in herself. Another deadline, though, was fast arriving. "I'm here," she stated bluntly. "I made it. I win."
Xena clicked her tongue in a tsk-tsk fashion, shaking her head slightly. "You may have found the castle, but may I point out," she leaned forward. "You have not found the baby." And stood up straight again with a wicked smile.
"I..." There was no sign of Lily. But that wasn't fair! It couldn't end like this!
Xena folded her arms, waiting.
The words of the story flowed into Gabrielle, settling familiarly. She stepped forward, holding out her hands. "Give me the child."
Something flickered in the Queen's eyes. "Beware, Gabrielle. I have been generous until now."
"Generous!" She advanced another step. "What have you done that was generous?"
"Everything. I have done everything you wanted. You asked that the child be taken, I took her. You wanted a chance, I gave it to you. You asked for more obstacles, I set them in your path. You needed an adversary - I became it." The Goblin Queen stepped back with an expansive gesture that took in their surroundings. "I have build a world of your fears and desires, and I have done it all for you. Isn't that generous?"
Gabrielle continued to move forwards, her arms outstretched. "Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City --"
"Stop!" Xena held up her hands. "Wait. Look what I offer you." A crystal appeared, spinning between her fingers. "I can make your dreams real. I can bring you to live inside of them."
Gabrielle took another step. "-- for I am princess of all the Amazons, and my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great..."
Xena raised the crystal higher, the light within it dancing and spinning. "I ask so little. Only believe in me above all others, and you can have everything you want, everything you have ever dreamed of."
She was frowning, and had stopped her approach. "My kingdom as great." What came next? She had never ended the scene!
In the distance, a clock began to chime.
Xena, smelling victory, stepped forwards. The crystal between her hands popped like a bubble and fell in a silent shower of sparkle. "Just fear me and love me," she said in a gentle voice. "Name me your master. Do as I say, and I will be with you forever..."
Gabrielle's mind was whirling. No time! She couldn't give in, no matter
how tempting. She had to take control. There had to be some way to win,
some way to get what she wanted without submitting. Dozens of phrases
and retorts danced behind her eyes, but none of the words worked.
Something to sum it all up, to establish her power in this, the final climax...
The Goblin Queen reached out her hand to accept surrender.
The reaction sprang from some inspired recess of her mind. Gabrielle lunged forwards and slammed her lips against Xena's.
The thirteenth chime rang out, and the clock fell silent.
Until The Dawn
It was not a particularly skilled kiss, being for one the first time following instead of leading, and for the other, the first entirely, but it was mad with the hunger of pent-up desires, and went on for a good while. Gabrielle closed her eyes and lost herself in the alabaster of Xena's skin, in the way the Queen sagged against her for support, in the aliveness she felt sparkling through her blood. The cool crystal of the Queen's pendant brushed between her breasts. She slid a hand around to
Xena's back, under the cloak, pulling her in, and felt in return hands tentatively touching the exposed flesh of her shoulders.
And then they were moving, Gabrielle finding her back to a wall and Xena's mouth on her neck, their bodies pressing desperately against each other. She gasped at the swift pain and heat the suction caused, her nails scraping against the fabric of Xena's shirt.
The cracking sound alone might not have distracted them from their pursuit, even loud as it was. The deep thud that followed, however, did. Gabrielle's eyes snapped open, drawn past the flushed face of the Goblin Queen, out one of the pointed windows. As she watched, another piece of the castle crumbled away and fell. "What's happening?" she whispered, trying to get her breathing back under control.
Xena suddenly released her, pushed away, stepped back. "You have to go."
There was a flash, and a sudden weight burdened Gabrielle's arms. She looked down. Cradled there was Lily, unharmed, little pink mouth smacking sleepily. Her diaper didn't even need changing. "Get out, before the whole place comes down," Xena said. No trace of desire remained in her eyes.
"You have to tell me what's going on!" Rocks fell, loud as thunder. Gabrielle instinctively clutched the baby, who whimpered quietly. The distant sound of shattering glass tinkled like raindrops.
A cold wind slipped through the empty windows, sending Xena's cape whipping. "Go now and leave me!"
There was a brilliant flash of light.
Gabrielle was sitting on her staircase, at home.
The clock stood at just past midnight.
Gabrielle closed her eyes to stem the tears and brushed her cheeks with the palms of her hands. "I have to stop this crying," she murmured aloud to distract herself. "It doesn't do any good." Then she remembered that Lily had not arrived with her, and scampered up the stairs on hands and
knees to reach the nursery to check.
The baby was in her crib, fast asleep. The window was still open, but the
storm had faded to no more than a whisper. Gabrielle tiptoed in to stand
by Lily's side and press a soft kiss on her cheek. Then she scooped the
lamb up from the floor and tucked it under her sister's hand. "There you
go," she whispered. "You need something to hold on to."
A few more steps brought her to the window where she stood a moment, hopeful, waiting. No one came. She quietly pulled it shut.
Back in her own room, she sat on the bed for a moment, then stood, picked up her music box, shoved it into a drawer, and sat on the bed again. Her curtains were open, but showed nothing but the dark of night. "Now what?" she asked aloud, but expected no answer.
Downstairs, she heard the front door open and close. Her stepmother called, "Gabrielle?"
She didn't answer at once.
"I'm here," she called, and sighed.
A flicker of motion drew her attention to her reflection against the dark window. There was someone else's face there. "Attis goodbye," said a voice.
She blinked and looked around the room. No one.
Back in the window, Eppie raised her spear in salute. "Remember, my lady, if you need us..."
"I'll call," she whispered.
The Amazon faded away.
Gabrielle waited a moment, but no more images came. "What about me?" she demanded at last. "What about us? You said I could name my own reward!" Pause. "I want *you*! I always have! I've been waiting for you all my life, and you can't just leave me like this, I won't have it!"
"All you had to do was ask," came an amused voice from behind her.
It was not the Goblin Queen, no, not the proud and dangerous villain. This Xena was barely older than Gabrielle herself. The blue eyes were just as brilliant, but warmer. An oversized black tshirt slouched on her frame over blue jeans, and her dark hair needed brushing. A silver dreamcatcher hung from her neck, with a tiny crystal twinkling in its web. "Surprise," she grinned.
Gabrielle opened her mouth, but before she could speak, "Who are you talking to, Gabby?" came her father's voice from downstairs.
Xena's eyebrows rose. "Gabby?" she mouthed.
"Please don't call me that," whispered the long-suffering teenager. "A friend?" she aimed back towards her father. She hoped it was true.
"That's nice, dear. Any problems with Lily?" Footsteps coming up the stairs.
Again, how to answer truthfully... "Everything turned out fine."
"That's good." His voice faded away.
Gabrielle returned her attention to the dark not-quite stranger on her bed. There were a thousand questions to be answered, not the least of which was how to keep her parents from finding out about this.
But what mattered most was that she'd finally figured out how to end the story.
[Author's note: Phew! Finally! Many thanks to the beta-readers and the people who've sent comments so far. Anyone with more artistic ability than me who could make me a picture of Xena as the Goblin Queen would be greatly appreciated... Anyone who wishes to write about what happens to these two after the end of *this* story is welcome to. I'm not intending to do any sequels. Hope you liked it! Feel free to write! -- Cecily, firstname.lastname@example.org]
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