Deciphering The Scrolls

part 8

by Azurenon & Savanna Mac

Please see part one for all disclaimers.


Chapter 15

 

By eight oíclock, Janice was pacing in front of the fire. Sheíd already taken a nice warm bath and changed into fresh clothes. Sheíd even put on the white shirt, the only one she owned without breast pockets, which Mel had recently told her she liked. She was also wearing the navy blue kerchief and navy blue pants, her lover had mentioned. Janice had been adamant that Mel would not return to find the dirty, wet, drunk lover sheíd left at the dig site. Sheíd find a clean, decently dressed one. One who was ready, if need be, to give Chuckie a run for his money. Or at least, one helluva hard time. If indeed Mel was with him. Of course, there had been the ever present thought that she could be walking on the beach.

With each passing minute, however, her concern was growing. She wouldnít be walking on the beach in the dark, she reasoned. So, she had to be one of two places: Off with Chuckie or... somewhere between the house and the dig. Perhaps she fell and is, at this moment, waiting for me to come looking for her... Janice grabbed her jacket, her hat and a kerosene lantern from the cupboard and was out the door in less than two minutes.

The nearly five minute walk to the dig site yielded no clues, nor did calling out for Mel, which she felt a bit silly doing, if she was indeed with Chuckie. On the way back, Janice took her time, wondering if maybe things werenít the way she thought. Maybe Mel had become so angry at her for being so drunk that sheíd taken off with Chuckie after all. Nawh, her clothes are still at home, she thought, And thereís the packages... things she just bought...

"Mel!!" she called out again. Only the wind answered her, its soft sighing song not the music to her ears that Melís voice would have been, at this moment. Gotta be with Chuckie, she thought, Thereís no other plausible explanation.

Janice tried to recall if there was a movie house in town, but didnít remember seeing one. Maybe they went out dancing? But where? Where could they be at this time of night? Could they have been in a car wreck? Janice shook her head, because she didnít even want to consider this thought.

She held the lantern high, scanning farther afield, eager to do anything to get her mind off the previous thought. She ended up bringing it back down closer to the ground, however, when she tripped over a root. Amazing how much we take daylight for granted, she mused, keeping her eyes peeled for any more obstructions. Strange how you donít really think about what you have until you... donít have it to rely on anymore. Sorta like hurting your little finger, you donít realize how much you use it, until its too hurt to use. Even then, itís hard to believe it does all those things.

It wasnít until she was halfway done the hill behind the cottage, that she realized what sheíd been seeing on the ground all along, but hadnít been paying attention to. There were tracks made by her boots and a pair of new boots: Melís new boots.

"Wait a minute," she said aloud, searching this particular sandy wash in the path for the tracks mad by Mel. There were tracks going to the dig site, but none coming back. "But, I know I saw two sets back there... somewhere," she mused.

Abruptly she turned around and started slowly backtracking. It wasnít long before she met up with Melís tracks coming back from the dig and then, after searching around, found where she had left the path. She followed the meandering progression and then.... "Oh my god!" she gasped, seeing the hole in the ground up ahead, with Melís boot tracks leading right up to it.

"Mel!!!" she called out, hoping up all hope that she would get a response. "Jesus H. Christ," she breathed, when there was no answer.

Her first thought was to go rushing up to the hole. Her second, however, stopped her dead still in her tracks. Sheíd never noticed this hole before, so what was it doing here? Holding the lantern up higher, she surveyed the surrounding area. The edge of the hole was jagged, like the debris they were removing from the cave. It was plausible, perhaps even obvious, that the ground had given way with Melís weight.

"Holy shit!" she hissed again, realizing there was every possibility it might give way with her too. But, she had to see about Mel.

Stepping lightly, ever alert for any signs of cracking, she eased forward, one step at a time, the lantern held high. "Mel," she called again. Disappointment flooded through her once again as silence prevailed.

Drawing closer to the hole, she eased down on all fours. Or at least all three limbs; the lantern now in her left hand, as she moved it out in front of her, then slowly crawled forward.

Holding her breath, afraid of what she might see, Janice lowered the lantern over the edge of the hole. A deep hollow cavern was illuminated below. And sprawled out at the bottom, the side of her face lying in the dirt, was her lover.

"Oh my god!!!" Janice breathed, tears welling up in her eyes. "God, no... NO!" she whispered, her lips and voice quivering. "Oh sweet Jesus, donít let her be dead! Mel... MEL!!!" she screamed. But there was no answer, nor any movement from her loverís prone form.

Tears coursed down Janiceís cheeks. Her emotions and thoughts coalescing into a maelstrom of confusion. Iíve lost her again, she thought. My god, what have I done? I never even told her that I loved her. I had the chance... she chastized herself, remembering their last night together. Mel had thanked her for freeing her from her long imprisonment. She then told Janice that she loved her. But, the latter had been unable or unwilling to push the words past the lump of fear in her throat. I shouldíve told her...

You showed her you loved her, her mind supplied.

But, she didnít know thatís what I was doing. I shoulda told her. I coulda told her. I was just too damn scared of losing her like Amanda... too damn proud to admit what I felt. And now I have lost her because of my fear and my pride! My drunken pride! Too damn stubborn to believe she was real! Too damn scared to believe! What an idiot I am!!!

Janiceís already shattered heart, which had only just begun to attempt to mend itself, now burst wide open once again. She wept openly like a small child; her head dropping onto her arm; her hat toppling from her head. She raised up quickly, desiring to catch it, but could only watch, through tear-filled eyes, while it flipped over and over, in slow motion, as it descended into the cavern and landed right side up, on top of Melís left hand. Janice stared at it for a moment, and saw the hat move, long after it should have been at rest.

Adrenaline surged through Janiceís body, alongside the hope-filled thought that Mel was ALIVE! "Gotta get down there," she mumbled. "That hat didnít move by itself."

And with that said, Janice began backing away from the hole cautiously; her mind already running amok with thoughts of what she had to do. Sheíd need rope. Yes, and something to tie it too. The lantern light revealed the closest tree to be at least 20 ft, if not more away. Two ropes then, she corrected, knowing she had 25 ft coils at the dig site. Tie them together. Yeah, that might work... if the knots hold. For sheíd never been very good with knots.

Back on solid ground now, Janice took off toward the dig site. Her mind was ticking off ideas concerning how to get Mel out of there and discarding those that wouldnít work. She considered going for help, but none of the men lived close. That would be wasting time she wasnít sure she had. But, then how was she supposed to get Mel out by herself? Was she strong enough to pull her out? The truck was an idea, but one she discarded rather quickly, since she couldnít get it close enough without possibly causing another cave in. For, sheíd already seen for herself that the cavern was not a small one, it extended far beyond the light from her lantern, that much was for sure. How far beyond, she didnít know. Using the truck at all, was a risky prospect, especially this close to the dig site itself. Then sheíd just have to be strong enough to pull Mel out by herself.

Inside her tent, she grabbed up a canteen and three 25 ft coils of heavy rope. Never hurts to overestimate, she thought. Now she needed something to place her friend on, so she could tie her to it, then tie the rope to this, in order not to pull on Mel herself; for, she had no idea what her loverís injuries might be. She glanced around and noticed the table. No, it needs to be lighter. Iím gonna have a hard enough time with Melís weight, much less a lot more, she thought. I need something light... something like a travois... something... Her gaze landed on the cot. Yes, that might just work.

Several moments later, the short, small boned, but determined archaelogist was making tracks back toward her lover. She had a canteen filled with water on one hip, her whip on the other; one coil of rope draped over each shoulder, the third around her neck; the lantern in one hand and the cot - with a blanket attached - firmly gripped in the other, dragging the ground behind her.

Janice set everything down by the tree, while she tied the two ropes together, then anchored one end to the trunk of the tree and the other to the cot. Carefully and cautiously, she maneuvered the cot, lantern, the other rope and herself over to the hole. She positioned the cot away from Melís prone form, so hopefully, it wouldnít land on her, if the rope slipped out of her hands. She then snaked the roped around her left boot, just in case she lost her grip, while lowering it.

Slowly she eased the cot over the edge of the hole, maintaining a firm grip on the rope. Only a small amount of debris broke away, as she did this. So far, so good, she thought. cautiously letting the rope slide through her hands. She realized rather quickly that she should have grabbed up her gloves. But, since she hardly ever wore them, the thought had not even crossed her mind. Too late now, she added, as the rope abraided the skin of her palms.

Once the cot was safely lowered and resting on the bottom, she tied the remaining rope to the handle of the lantern and cautiously lowered it, positioning it away from, yet close to, the cot. Whereupon, she then released the rope, leting it fall into the hole, where she would have it for later use to secure Mel, wrapped in the blanket, to the cot. And next, came the tricky part: her descent. She knew sheíd find out rather quickly whether the knot sheíd tied would hold, as well as, just how much of the cavernous roof would collapse, when her weight went over the side.

Turning herself around - feet towards the hole - she again snaked the rope around her boot and with both hands firmly gripping the rope, wormed her way backward on her elbows. Her whip snagged on a jagged edge along her route over the side, but came loose with only a minor shifting of her body. Debris crumbled into the cavern, however.

"Come on, donít fall apart on me now," she murmured, talking to the stone ceiling, as she eased the rest of her body over the edge.

The rope fiber groaned in protest when her weight suddenly yanked out the slack and pulled it taunt. Janiceís hands burned, as these same rough fibers abraided away more of her skin, along her slow descent into the cavern.

Just a few more feet, she thought, glancing down at the solid ground below. Then suddenly, as if in response to her thought, all hell broke loose. The ceiling began cracking, the rope twisted and groaned and Janice let out an "UH-OH!" that echoed in the cavern. A second later, her left hip hit solid ground with a decided THUNK! as the rope and debris rained around her head.

"God-dammit!" she cursed, a few moments later, having escaped the falling debris unscathed and noticing the end of the rope nearby. It was obvious from its unabraided condition that it hadnít broken; her knot had merely come untied. "Son-of-a-fuckiní...." She suddenly paused in her cursing, hearing a noise behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see her hat, on top of Melís hand, once again move. She also heard her friend groan.

Her left hip screaming in protest, Janice scrambled to her feet and limped over to her friend, who was lying with her face toward the cavern wall. Janice knelt down behind her and leaned over slightly, for the first time noticing the pool of dried blood near Melís forehead. "Oh shit!" she exclaimed.

Mel moaned and her right eye fluttered open. "Umph," she grunted.

"Thank god!" Janice breathed, reaching out and brushing a few stray strands of her friendís hair away from her face. "Mel?" she uttered, for the lack of anything better to say.

The tall brunetteís right eye struggled to turn and focus in her direction, as she murmured, "Jan-nice." A slight smile turned up one corner of her mouth.

"Oh, Mel," Janice mumbled, tears stinging her eyes yet again. "No, maybe you shouldnít..." she cautioned, as her friend raised her head and groaned.

But Mel seemed determined to roll over, so Janice quickly eased her hand, then her arm beneath her friendís neck, as the latter slowly rolled over on her back.

"Oh my god," Janice breathed, now able to see the dried, clotted blood on the side of Melís forehead. Despite the protests of her hip, Janice manuevered herself into a sitting position; Melís torso laying across her thighs; the brunetteís head cradled in the crook of her left arm, as she attempted to survey the extent of her friendís injuries. Mel winced as Janice lightly touched her left cheek. "Iím sorry," she murmured, as her friend reached up and took this hand in hers, both eyes now functioning and searching herís.

"Crying? Why... are you crying?" Mel asked, slowly.

Janice leaned over and placed a light kiss on her loverís forehead, but offered no response.

"Donít cry," Mel murmured, releasing Janiceís hand and reaching up to her face, where she gently brushed a tear from her cheek. "This... feels so-o... familiar," she added, her eyes slowly closing.

"Oh God no, Mel, donít leave me!" Janice whispered, taking hold of Melís hand, which was slipping from her face.

"Why... would I do that?" Mel asked slowly, as her eyes fluttered open.

Tears were still trickling down Janiceís cheeks; her lips quivering; the lump in her throat so tight, at the moment, she could not say a word.

"Where... are we?" Mel inquired, her eyes scanning beyond Janiceís face now. "Whatís... going on?" she further prodded.

"Itís... a long... story," Janice finally managed to respond, squeezing the words by the still present lump.

"I... fell in a... hole, didnít I?" Mel said, then squinted and grunted, while moving one of her legs.

"Where... do you hurt?" Janice asked, her voice squeaky.

"My head and leg," Mel murmured.

"Maybe I should... take a look at that leg..."

"No," Mel said, squeezing her hand. "Donít... leave me. Tell me... what happened."

Janice then explained what she assumed had happened to Mel and how she had found her. She wasnít sure she wanted to admit that they were both trapped now. At least not yet.

"You came after me, by yourself?" Mel asked, her eyes glancing around them.

"Yes," Janice answered, mentally kicking herself already for not going for help.

Mel stared at her intently and Janice began to feel quite guilty. Here Mel was hurt and both of them trapped in a cavern that could still collapse and all she could think about was kissing her loverís luscious lips.

The hand Janice held in her own, suddenly moved toward her face. "We are alone?" Mel queried, to which Janice nodded. "Then kiss me," Mel suggested, the index finger of the hand Janice was holding, circling the latterís lips. "Iíve missed these," she added.

"Oh Mel," Janice whispered, as tears started trickling down her cheeks again. "Iíve missed you, too." She let go of Melís hand and leaned over, until their lips met.

"Again," Mel requested, her hand on her loverís cheek now, coaxing it back down.

Janice was surprised at the fervor of Melís kiss. The latterís hand moved to the back of her head and pulled her closer, as the talll brunetteís lips and tongue eagerly caressed and massaged her own, seemingly asking for more.

"Umm," Mel murmured, when Janice finally pulled back. Then she slowly turned her head into Janiceís body, gently nuzzling her face against her loverís breast.

Janice could now plainly see the small gash on the side of Melís forehead. The amount of blood had made it look far worse than it actually was. Yet, it had been enough of a blow to knock Mel out cold for several hours. So there was still the possibility of repercussions or a relapse into unconsciousness. "Mel?" she queried, when her lover grew very still.

"Hmm?" One eye fluttered open and looked up.

"Uh... nothing... I... Iím just... afraid each time you close your eyes that... you wonít open them again."

Mel moved her head back slightly, both eyes now peering up at Janice, the look in them a bit stronger than the first time. "I was just... enjoying the way you smell," she murmured, "Iíve missed this, Jan-nice... Iíve missed everything about you," she added, pulling her loverís face back down to her own.

Their lips met briefly once again and Mel groaned when Janice pulled back. "What? Did I hurt you?" Janice asked, concern evident in her voice.

"No, you didn... well, yes... when you called me... a bitch," Mel answered, staring up at her lover. "Whyíd you say those things, Jan-nice?"

The latter cleared her throat. "Another long story."

"Iím not going anywhere," Mel quipped, her voice sounding stronger now, a slight smile turning up the corners of her mouth. "I need to know," she added, seriously.

Janice then explained about Amanda, her first love and several others who had left, as well. No affair ever lasting over a week or two at the most.

"And you just assumed Iíd leave too, hmm? You never even read my note, did you?" Mel questioned.

"Well, Chuckie said he came here to... marry you."

Mel groaned and grabbed hold of Janiceís shoulder, pulling herself up into a sitting position. "Iím gonna ki-ill Chuckie," she grumbled, laying her head against Janiceís shoulder. "He always says those things when his girlfriends break up with him. Usually over his womanizing ways. He always comes running to me, as if he thinks marrying me will solve his problems."

"And... what about you, Mel?" Janice inquired. "Do you want to marry Chu..."

Janice didnít even get to finish her question, Mel pulled back so fast. And then the latter groaned, grabbing the left side of her head. Janice threw both arms around her friendís body, afraid she was going to fall over.

Mel leaned her head over, pressing her right cheek to Janiceís. "Why would I want to... marry Chuckie, Janice..." she murmured. "...when Iím in love with you?"

Janice swallowed hard, that lump of fear jumping back up in her throat. She could hardly believe what she had just heard. She swallowed again, determined to force words around that lump this time. "I... I love you, too," she whispered, near her friendís ear. "With all my heart."

Mel eased back and placed her hand on her loverís cheek. "Then... nothing else matters, does it?" she asked, her eyes searching Janiceís.

"No," Janice answered, "nothing else matters." Their lips met once again and for a far more extended period of time.

Chapter 16

 

When they finally came up for air, Mel said. "I think if you help me to my feet, we can get out of here."

Janice cleared her throat. "Uh, well.. no, we canít."

Mel stared at her. "How come?"

Janice reluctantly began explaining their situation, finally offering her lover some water, when she decided to try and clean her loverís face by wetting her kerchief. Mel winced several times, as Janice neared the gash, so the latter left it alone. She then proceeded to check her lover over for broken bones. She didnít believe there were any, although Melís lower right leg was quite sore.

"So, youíre saying weíre stuck here until... morning?" Mel surmised, as her lover continued surveying her body parts for damage.

"Uh, yeah," Janice responded a bit sheepishly, running her hand over Melís lower leg once again. "Unless I can find another way out. Sorry, I didnít think to bring any food," she apologized, hearing her friendís stomach grumble.

Mel grunted, her eyes on the cot. "Well, we at least have some place to lay down and a blanket to keep us warm."

Janice grunted now, finding little comfort in this, however, for her mind was on chastizing herself for being so stupid. Shoulda went for help, she kept thinking, even though it accomplished nothing, except to make her feel worse.

"Well, if youíll help me to my feet," Mel began, "I think..."

"No. You sit right there. Iíll go have a look around and..."

"Not without me you wonít," Mel interjected sternly. "Besides, I need to find a... little girlís room, so... help me up, hmm?"

"I gotta admit..." Janice paused, helping Mel to her feet. "...you donít sound like youíre hurt too bad."

"I donít feel like Iím... oh-h-ah-h-oh-h!" Mel winced, putting her weight down on her right leg for the first time. Janice grabbed her around the waist. "No, no... I can make it. Just umph... just get the lantern, hmm?"

Janice released her and grabbed up the lantern.

"Where are we anyway?" Mel questioned, glancing around them.

"Some type of cave," Janice answered, holding up the lantern so she could see better.

"Man made," Mel intoned, noticing the chiseled features of the walls.

Janice grunted. "Looks like a tunnel up ahead." She gestured with the lantern towards a small opening 25 to 30 feet away.

"Looks like the only choice we have. Letís go the... Ow-w.."

"Here, let me help you." Janice put her arm around her companionís waist. "That leg must be worse than I thought."

"Just sore and... stiff around the knee," Mel grumbled, giving into the pain shooting down her right leg.

"Weíll take it easy then."

When they reached the small opening Janice let go of her companion and ducked down, entering the low ceiling tunnel with the lantern. A few minutes later, she gasped.

"Wha- what is it?" Mel asked, concern evident in her voice.

"Iím... not sure..." Came the reply. "Thereís some steps leading down into... another large cave. Iíll come back and help..."

"Keep going," Mel interrupted, already ducking into the tunnel. "Iím right behind you."

"But, your leg..."

"Iím using the wall... for support. Keep going. Iím anxious to see what weíve found."

Janice smiled at her friendís use of the word "we".

Mel emerged from the tunnel with Janiceís help. "Careful of the stairs," the latter admonished, grabbing her companion around the waist, while Mel glanced around them.

Many large, small and medium sized stalactites hung down from the ceiling; their counterpart, stalagmites, thrusting up through the cave floor in profusion.

"What is this place?" Mel whispered, noticing row after row of bronze shields lining the walls on each side. Collections of swords, spears and various other weapons were propped up against the walls and littering the floor beneath the shields. "An armory?"

"Kinda looks that way," Janice conceded, raising the lantern higher. "A Roman armory at that."

"Roman?"

"Look at the designs, the shape of shields." She pointed to a row of large silver colored shields on the left wall. "That design... the crest... those are first century Roman in origin, Iíd say." Mel turned towards her friend, marveling at her vast knowledge. "I studied Roman culture," Janice explained. "My father was adamant that to be a good archaeologist one needed a vast working knowledge of the more prominent ancient cultures, in order to sort through the layers of overlapping civilizations in conquered territories."

Mel grunted acknowledgment. "Shall we?" She gripped Janiceís shoulder. "I know youíre dying to get a look at everything up close."

"Yeah, I am," Janice admitted, supporting her friendís right side, as they started down the stone stairway. "Watch your step," she cautioned, indicating some fallen debris on the next stair. "Looks like these were cut out of the rocks," she mumbled.

"Think this is what your father was looking for?" Mel queried. "More scrolls around here somewhere?"

"In a Roman armory," Janice said skeptically. "I doubt it. Xena fought against the Romans. Hated Caesar, if I remember correctly."

"True, heís the one that broke her legs."

"I doubt Gabrielle would leave any scrolls here. Doesnít look like weíre gonna find a way out, either," she commented, gesturing towards the jumble of large boulders and rocks piled up to the ceiling at the other end.

"Well, if nothing else, maybe we found a warmer place to spend the night," Mel offered, descending the last step.

Janice grunted, her gaze wandering around the large cave.

"Go on," Mel suggested. "Iíll wait here. You look around and tell me what you see, hmm?"

"I thought you needed to go to the bathroom?"

"I do. But, I can wait until you scope out a suitable place. I mean, I know youíll be back with your men, so..."

Janice grunted acknowledgment of Melís feelings on the matter and helped her friend sit down on the steps. "On the other side of these stairs might be..." She paused, as her eyes fixed upon the wall behind their position.

"What?" Mel queried.

"A painting," Janice answered. "See for yourself."

Mel turned, looking over her shoulder. "Whoís that?" she asked, seeing the large well rendered painting of a woman in a deerskin outfit. Her long dark brown hair was pulled over to one side, hanging down her left shoulder. A golden colored bow was slung across her right shoulder, a quiver of arrows peaking out from behind her back. She was dressed in a light brown deerskin halter and short loincloth, leather boots, of the same color, up to her knees. Her left hand was reaching out to an exquisitely rendered female deer, painted gold; a silver moon suspended in the dark sky between them.

"Artemis," both women whispered, simultaneously, as if they feared the goddess herself might hear them and the painting come to life.

"Or is it Diana?" Mel queried, remembering the Romans referred to Artemis, the Moon Goddess by this name.

"Donít think so," Janice answered slowly. "Not with the golden hind and... holding hands with... another woman."

Mel turned around quickly to face her friend, then looked over her right shoulder to where Janiceís gaze was concentrated now. The female figureís right hand was cupped beneath the tunnel entrance, Mel and Janice had just exited. The fingers of another hand underneath and intertwined with hers led to the opposite side of the tunnel and another female figure. This one was clothed in a long white sarong, folds of material meticulously painted in painstaking detail. A gold belt held the sarong in place at the waist. Her breasts were low and burgeoning against the thin fabric. Her long blonde hair was pulled over to the right side, the exact opposite of the figure across from her. It was held in place by a gold headband, consisting of two symbols for the quarter phrases of the moon, surrounding a silver circle in the center; a golden bow, drawn and complete with nocked arrow, contained within its circumference.

"And whoís that?" Mel whispered.

Janice shook her head. "Iím not... sure. My best guess would be... the young woman she saved from being sacrificed to her. She was the sister of Orestes, but I canít... remember her name."

"Orestesí sister? Wasnít he the one that killed his mother and stepfather, because he found out they had murdered his real father, King Agamemnon?"

"Know your Greek mythology, hmm?"

"Evidently not, because... I donít remember her."

"Letís see... how did that story go now?" Janice paused, as Mel looked over at her. "She was King Agamemnonís daughter, of course. And well... the king wanted to fight in the Trojan war... though I donít remember why or... even what side he was on, but he couldnít launch his ships because the seas were too rough. So his... seer told him that if he sacrificed his daughter Iph... Iphegenia, that was her name... if he sacrificed Iphegenia to Artemis, the goddess would calm the sea. Well, when Artemis found out what he was going to do, she rescued Iphegenia and put a deer in her place. Then she supposedly took the young maiden to one of her temples and made her a priestess."

"You donít think this is the temple, do you?"

"No, it was on some island, I believe. I donít... remember the name."

"You sure know your mythology," Mel said, almost wistfully.

"Comes with the territory."

"You tell a... pretty fair story, too."

"No, I donít," Janice concluded. "Iím no storyteller, believe me."

Mel glanced back at the painting. "So, she rescued her because... they were lovers?"

"Hmph, I donít think the legends mention anything like that. Looks like the Amazons believed it, though, hmm?" Mel offered no response, as if she hadnít even heard her. "Mel... whatís wrong?"

"So-o famil-iar," Mel mumbled, her gaze centered on the entrance to the tunnel. "I... I feel like Iíve... been here before."

Musta hit your head harder than I thought, Janice surmised to herself, noticing the glazed look of Melís eyes in the lantern light.

"Itís not... an armory," Mel announced hesitantly. "Itís... its an Amazon temple... dedicated to Artemis."

"Hmph. Could have been," Janice acknowledged, glancing around for any other evidence to back up the validity of this statement. "I certainly doubt the Romans would worship a goddess and her... consort."

"Mate," Mel corrected in a whispery voice. "Amazons pledged their... love to one another here."

"What makes you say that?" Janice reached out and touched her friendís shoulder, becoming a bit concerned about her now.

Mel quickly glanced up at her. "I... feel it... inside." She touched her chest, over her left breast. Janice arched one light brown eyebrow. "I was right about the tomb," Mel commented, referring to her pronouncement that it was the site of some battle between good and evil. She reached up and placed her hand over Janiceís. "Trust me, Iím right about this."

Janice blinked several times, unable to easily accept Melís feelings at face value. Besides which, it felt rather odd thinking Mel might indeed possess some type of strange powers. She was a descendant of Xenaís after all. And the warriorís spirit had taken over her body in that tomb and fought Ares. Was Xena perhaps speaking through her now? Janice shuddered at the thought of coming face to face with the brave warrior woman again. What had it been like for Gabrielle to travel with someone like that? Lay down beside her at night? Be held in those strong arms? Janice shook her head to try and clear the strange images manifesting themselves in her mindís eye; for, she could almost smell the leather of....

"Whatís wrong?" Mel questioned.

Janice shook her head again. "Uh, nothing. Nothing at all," she responded, glancing away from her friend. "Need to find us a bathroom." Her eyes surveyed the area around them. "Over there, by the wall." She indicated the left corner of the cave, the same wall the tunnel was on. "Thereís nothing over there. No reason for the men to go over there."

 

Once the necessities were taken care of, Janice returned Mel to the steps and began searching the cave for some indication of a way out. What appeared to have been an entrance at the far end was now blocked tight with large heavy boulders and debris from an apparent cave-in, perhaps centuries old.

"Canít get out that way," she announced dejectedly, sidestepping the stalagmites in her path toward the right wall and the assortment of bronze and silver shields hanging there. "If this was an Amazon temple, what are Roman weapons doing here?" She pondered this, as she picked up a sword lying on the ground. "Gee-whiz, this is heavy! Humph, I guess the old man could have been looking for this place." She gripped the sword with both hands and held it out in front of her; her gaze now drawn to the shield on the wall beyond it. "Wait... a... minute," she said slowly, the sword point wavering in front of her. "We canít be... far from the dig...." She glanced up at the tunnel entrance, noticing its reference to the right wall. "And that tunnel in the cave... it veers off in this direction. It may well be..." She pointed the sword at the first shield on the other end of this wall.

"What?" Mel asked, watching her friend begin working her way towards this shield, the sword held out in front of her.

"One of these, I bet," Janice mumbled. "I bet itís one of these!" she added excitedly.

"Whatís one of these?"

Janice struck the shield with the sword. A metallic ting rang out. "Just like what I heard in the tunnel that day. The metal I touched... I bet it was one of these shields!" She tossed the sword aside and approached the shield. "If I can just get this to move..."

"Janice! Those things are heavy!" Mel cautioned, realizing her friend was going to try and move the shield.

"I... only need to... move it a... little bit," Janice grunted, pushing against the side of the shield.

"LOOK OUT!!!" Mel exclaimed, as the shield slipped off its peg.

Janice leaped back and did a little dance backwards, when the shield hit the ground and fell forward, sliding towards her feet; oscillating from side to side on its concave face.

"Are you alright?" Mel queried, already up on her feet and moving towards her companion, the pain in her leg overridden by concern for the one she loved.

"Yeah, Iím fine," Janice muttered, obviously unhurt, but disappointed. "Wasnít behind that one. But, itís gotta be one of these..."

"Hold on!" Mel exclaimed, grabbing her friendís arm, when she reached out towards another shield. "If youíre gonna do this... and I know youíre bound and determined to, then... letís find a way thatís... safer, hmm?" Janice looked over at her and frowned. "What about using one of those spears or... swords to get it off the wall? That way youíre not so close."

"Hmph, not a bad idea," Janice admitted, glancing around for one to use.

"Try one of those long spears," Mel further suggested.

Three shields were laying on the floor before Janice found the crumbled remains of the hole sheíd had her hand in the week before. "Now if I can just use a sword to enlarge this hole..."

"Wait," Mel cautioned, "isnít that wall unstable? It might collapse if you try and break through."

Janice glanced up at her lover, frowning. "Voice of clear-headed reason," she murmured. "Yeah, youíre probably right," she agreed, surveying the fine cracks running down the wall in every direction and remembering the cave-in that had almost cost her a hand and possibly her life. "I guess I just wanted to get you out of here and back to the cottage as soon as possible. Take care of those wounds..."

"Iím fine," Mel countered, reaching out and touching her friendís cheek. "Really I am. We can wait here Ďtil morning. Come on... letís find a place to lie down, hmm?"

"Oh... I brought that cot," Janice commented, her eyes lighting up once again. "Let me go get it and Iíll fix a place for you to lay down."

"For us," Mel corrected, stroking her companionís cheek.

Janice laid the cot out in a relatively clear area and helped Mel onto it. She was about to pull the blanket up over her friend, when Mel stopped her.

"Lay down with me," her lover suggested.

"Thereís not enough room for both of..."

"Of course there is," Mel interrupted, tugging on her companionís arm. "if you lay on top of me."

"No... youíre hurt. Iíll just..."

"Iím not that hurt," Mel countered, tugging harder. "Iím not spending another night away from you, Janice."

"But, you need your rest."

"No, what I need right now... is you," Mel said, pulling her friend over on top of her. "I love you, Janice," she whispered in her loverís ear. "Donít ever doubt my love for you again. Iíve finally found what Iíve been searching for my whole life. And... itís you, love."

A large lump formed in Janiceís throat, but this time she was determined to push pass it and say the words that were in her heart. "I... I love you, too, Mel. I really... and truly do."

 

When Janice awoke, the cave was still nearly pitch black; for, sheíd extinguished the lantern right after they removed their clothes the night before, in order to save the fuel for later. Laying half on top of Mel now; her head resting on her loverís shoulder; one leg thrown over a silky smooth thigh; arm around a bare waist, she waited for her eyes to adjust to their surroundings. She knew where the lantern and lighter were - where sheíd left them the night before - yet, she didnít want to wake up her lover by fumbling around in the darkness. Nor was her body anxious to leave its warm, soft surroundings, even if her mind suggested she do otherwise.

I do so love you, Mel, she thought, inhaling the now familiar scent that was her lover, mixed with the mustiness of the cave. Please, donít ever leave me. I donít think I could bear losing you.

Mel sighed heavily, as if she had heard her thoughts. "Not even in death," Janice heard a voice, seemingly coming from inside her friend whisper. Janice quickly raised up, looking up at her lover. Melís breathing was slow and even. A weird tingle crawled up Janiceís spine, as she realized Mel had not said a word; she was still asleep.

If she didnít say it, then who did? she wondered. I know I heard it, plain as day. Or am I still dreaming? Janice raised up even further. This doesnít feel like a dream, she thought, her bladder announcing its need for release. Her eyes scanned her surroundings, the now hazy darkness revealing darker shapes that were the stalagmites near them. Janice felt at odds with herself. She knew she heard that voice and those words, but... where had they come from?

Her gaze soon fell upon the tunnel and the slight illumination going from the other side. It was morning already. Time to get moving.

"And where do you think youíre going?" Mel queried, as Janice attempted to get up.

"Itís morning. We need to get dressed... get moving..."

"No good morniní kiss?" Mel held her lover down.

"Hmph, I know where those usually lead," Janice teased, placing a soft kiss on Melís cheek.

"Which is exactly what I had in mind."

"Oh no, not this morning," Janice objected. "We need to get dressed and outta here. Get you back to the cottage and take care of that wound."

"Hmm... your soft bed would be better." Mel ran her hand over her loverís behind.

"Youíre incorrigible, you know that?"

"And you love it," Mel nuzzled her face against Janiceís neck.

"You got that right," Janice murmured. "But... letís save this for later, hmm? After a nice hot bath, some breakfast... warm sheets..."

"Deal," Mel murmured, kissing her loverís neck.

She was watching Janice put on her boots and thinking about just how much she dearly loved this woman sheíd known a little less than a month. If anyone had told me Iíd be living in Greece with a female archaeologist ... falling in love with her... and unable to stay out of her bed, I would have told them they were out of their ever-loving-mind. And yet... here I am, doing exactly that. She sighed contentedly. So many things about Janice now seemed so very familiar. It was like sheíd known her forever. And, she felt deep inside, that she wanted to be with Janice for eternity; yet another thought that felt very familiar. "Not even in death.," She heard the words clearly in her head. They were words she felt sheíd once said. Words sheíd felt deeply.

"Iíll never leave you," she said aloud.

Janice glanced up. "What did you say?"

"I... I love you, Janice," Mel stammered, coming back to reality. "Never doubt that."

"I wonít," Janice said softly, reaching out and taking Melís hand. "Iím... sorry I called you a... bitch. I didnít mean..."

Mel squeezed her hand. "I know you didnít. And I forgive you. Forgive me for... pouring dirty water over your head?"

"Yes, most definitely. I deserved that. It brought me to my senses." Janice glanced down at their hands.

"No work today, promise?"

Janice returned her gaze to Melís. "No work, I promise. First though, letís get outta here."

"Agreed." Mel squeezed her loverís hand once more, before releasing it and reaching back for her clothes, which sheíd used as a pillow.

"Did a little shopping while you were gone, hmm?" Janice teased.

"A little. I didnít think you noticed."

"Oh, I noticed, believe me. I just... didnít know who bought them, you or... Chuckie."

"Me, I assure you," Mel responded, slipping her arm in her shirt. "I needed more appropriate clothes if... I was gonna stick with you. Isnít that how it went?"

Janice grunted. "They look good on you, too. Re-eal good," she added, eyeing the still open shirt front. The sight of Melís half covered breasts were a grand temptation. "Although I must admit, you look good in... nothing at all."

Mel raised one dark eyebrow. "Whose incorrigible now, hmm?"

Janice grunted, cleared her throat and returned to lacing up her boots. Mel grinned to herself, while buttoning up her shirt. After retrieving her pants, she glanced over at her companion again. As the latter moved her leg back, in order to stand up, something caught Melís eye. "Whatís that?" she asked, staring at a design seemingly etched into the stone on the back of one of the stalagmites, which was highlighted by the lantern light.

"Where?"

"That design there," Mel responded, staring at it, as she pointed, feeling a sense of recognition. A slight tingle traveled up her spine.

"Hmph," Janice grunted, spotting the circular symbol with a cross directly beneath it. "It looks like...." She paused and moved closer. Tentatively she reached out and touched the design.

Suddenly a bright light flashed before her eyes. When her vision cleared, she could see the same design carved into a stone wall in front of her. "It will be there, in the future," a slightly accented female voice said. Then the scene switched abruptly. "You are like lines in the Mende.... separate, but forever connected," the same voice - coming from a dark skinned woman - pronounced. Her clothes suggested "East Indian" to Janice.

"Janice... thereís... something here," Melís voice said, snapping Janice out of whatever had taken hold of her. "This symbol... itís familiar." Mel was now beside her, reaching out towards the design herself.

As soon as their hands touched, Janice was overcome once again, with an assortment of images flashing before her eyes. She saw a huge fire... something on a platform burning within it. She heard drums beating... female voices singing a sad, mournful tune. Funeral pyre, she thought, suddenly feeling tears on her cheek and a deep sadness flood her being. She turned her head, feeling it rest against another human body; female; taller than herself; her arm already around this person; her grip tightening. She started to raise her head to get a look at the face...

White light exploded before her eyes. Now there were scrolls in her hands. She could feel them... she could smell them. A strange feeling came with the scent. Sadness... she felt very sad inside... more so than before. She knew she was going to hide these scrolls. Sheíd never have them in her hands again. Never read them... never....

Drums were beating in the distance now, as the scene changed. She could see the entrance to the tunnel... her gaze fixed on the two figures in the painting, as she ascended the stairs, with someone beside her; someoneís hand in hers: large, callused and warm. "I promise to love, honor and protect you," she heard a husky voice beside her say. "I commit my life to you,í she heard herself saying, as she turned towards the figure beside her.

The scene abruptly changed. "How will we recognize each other?" she heard herself ask. "We need a sign," the same voice from before responded. Then she was staring at a black circle with a cross attached beneath it. It was on the top of someoneís bare foot. "There. Now, weíll always be able to recognize one another."

Someone gasped and Janice was once again looking at her own hand, in front of the symbol. Only now, Melís was on top of hers, their fingers interlaced. She turned and looked over her shoulder at her lover. Mel was staring at her, mouth agape.

"Mel, did you see....?" Her lover nodded before she could finish.

"Get something to dig with Janice," Mel said, in a whispery voice. "Theyíre here. I can feel it."

 

"We need something to put these in," Mel said, later that night.

"Yeah, but what?" Janice mumbled.

"I donít know, but we canít just leave them laying out like this."

Janice grunted acknowledgment, her eyes riveted to the pile of scrolls on the floor beside their bed. The leather bag they had once been encased in was still in the cave, what was left of it, that is; most of it having disintegrated long ago.

"I know, we can use my suitcase," Mel suggested, jumping up and heading for the closet.

"Hmph, good idea," Janice mumbled. "Why didnít I think of that?"

"Probably worn out," Mel teased. "Neither of us has had much sleep. And besides, Iím sure youíre thinking about those weapons still down there. How much do you think theyíd be worth?"

Janice grunted. "Thatís just it... Iím not sure I should... take them out. After all, they belonged to the Amazons."

Mel straightened up, after laying the suitcase out on the floor beside the scrolls. "Youíre not like your father, Janice."

"Sometimes, I think it might be easier if I was. No pains of conscious."

"Youíre no longer financing a search for the scrolls like he was."

"Hmph. Feels strange to know the search is over."

"Is it?" Mel asked.

"Well, I donít think thereíd be many more, do you? Weíve got what... 30, 35 scrolls now?"

"Doesnít mean there arenít more." Mel started carefully putting the scrolls in the suitcase. "Besides, we have to decipher these. Who knows whatís in them."

Janice joined her friend, carefully arranging the scrolls in the bottom of the suitcase. "Mel, in the cave back there... what... did you... I mean... what happened...?"

Mel stopped what she was doing. "Do you believe in reincarnation?"

Janice glanced up at her friend. "I never thought much about it."

Mel grunted. "Most ancient eastern religions speak of some form of reincarnation of the soul. The beliefs are varied, but... Iíve always believed it, even before I knew what to call it."

Janice sat back on her haunches. "And you think that... we are... were... Xena and Gabrielle?"

"I know it sounds strange and... perhaps a bit... too optimistic, but... yes, Iím beginning to believe it. I mean, it makes perfect sense, doesnít it? How else could an ancient warrior princess take over my body and fight against a god, unless..."

"But, he said we were descendants of Xena and Gabrielle, not the reincarnation of them."

"He also tried to kill you and Jack. Think we should believe everything he says? After all, Xena trapped him there for a reason. I donít believe sheíd do that because he was so trustworthy, do you?"

Janice glanced over at Mel, who was now back to moving the scrolls into the suitcase. "íWhatís going on, Mel? You seem to be in a big hurry to... hide these or something. And, you didnít want me to tell the men about them, why?"

"Gut feeling," Mel responded. "I canít explain why I feel this way, but... I have a feeling... weíre gonna need to... keep these from prying eyes. Maybe Iím just being paranoid, but... so far my gut instincts have been right on the money."

"Youíre talking and thinking different," Janice noted.

Mel stopped and glanced over at her lover. "So are you. You no longer seem sure of yourself."

"Iím... not," Janice admitted. "Iím not sure about anything anymore. Not after... what I experienced in that cave. What was that?"

"Memories," Mel responded. "They felt like memories, to me."

"I felt so sad... the one about the scrolls. But, I know this wasnít just about them. There was something else... something I still feel even now. So sad."

Mel had felt a sense of sadness, as well as, impending doom. But, she didnít think sheíd reveal this to Janice. Instead, she reached out and put her arm around her loverís shoulders. "I donít understand this any better than you do," she said softly, placing a kiss atop her loverís blonde tresses. "I only know I love you and want to be with you, always."

Janice wrapped her arms around the tall brunetteís waist, feeling a strange sense of deja vu. She remembered the funeral pyre scene. Someone sheíd cared for had died. No, been killed... in battle, she corrected herself.

"Oh, I almost forgot," Mel announced, easing back. "I got something for you. A surprise. Go on over there to the bed. Iíll move this out of the way and go get it, okay?"

Janice nodded, feeling tears threatening behind her eyes. She also felt rather weak and helpless at the moment. Mel was her strength now. She could sense this as she watched the tall brunette gingerly carrying the suitcase on its side - so as not to upset the scrolls within - to an out of the way corner.

"Close your eyes," Mel said, before exiting the room. "Iíll be right back."

Janice could not imagine what sort of surprise Mel had for her, but she did as she was instructed. Her mind was still working on the puzzle of the images and the feelings they generated - her scientifically oriented brain, not yet ready to accept the idea of reincarnation - when she felt Mel lay something on her lap.

"Okay, you can open them, now," Mel announced with a slight lilt to her voice.

"What in the world...?" Janice mumbled, seeing the large round box, decorated with red ribbon.

"Go on, open it. I hope you like it."

Janice pulled off the ribbon and opened the lid. "Oh-h Mel-l," she gasped.

"I tried to remember the name brand and get the exact same one. I hope I remembered right."

Janice reached in the box and removed an olive green hat, identical to the now battered one she wore most everyday. Tears welled up in her eyes.

"I thought you could use a new one for... going to town and stuff like..." Mel was abruptly interrupted, when Janice -overcome with emotion- placed the hat back in the box, then reached out and grabbed her around the neck. "I take it... you like it?" she teased.

"Love... it," Janice murmured, trailing kisses from her loverís cheek to her lips, tears streaming from her eyes. "And.. I love... you too!" she added, right before claiming her loverís lips.

"Umm... Iíll have to do that more often," Mel said softly, when Janice finally let her come up for air. "What else do you need, hmm? What would I get for a new jacket? New boots, hmm?"

"A severe spankiní," Janice murmured against her loverís neck. "You donít need to buy me things, Mel, you know that."

"Oh, but I like it," Mel responded. "Spankiní, hmm? That... could be interesting, I suppose. As long as youíre gentle."

"Oh, I would be." Janice captured Melís earlobe between her teeth and tugged lightly. "And just... rough enough to make... it interesting," she added, pushing her lover over on the bed, where she maneuvered on top of her, her legs pushing the hat box and its contents off the side of the bed.

Continue to Part 9

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