Hide and Seek
Disclaimer: The characters from Xena: Warrior Princess are not mine. They belong to Renaissance/MCA/Universal. No profit is being made from this story. It's simply for the enjoyment of the fans. It is collaboration between myself and a great friend and bard, who is also very shy. Feedback is appreciated. Craved, actually! You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!
Xena and Gabrielle were resting in the forest. Tall trees stood all around, rustling in the wind. Gabrielle twirled her new Sais, practicing her techniques. Xena was sharpening her sword; for all it had been through, it was still almost new. Her ears perked up, hearing something in the distance. Gabrielle, knowing that reaction all too well, held out her Sais and stood next to Xena.
Then out of the bushes Xena and Gabrielle saw Amarice with two rabbits slung over her shoulder. Seeing them in their defensive stance, she glance around quickly, "What's wrong?"
Relaxing, Xena just raised an eyebrow and went back to her sword. Gabrielle grimaced when Amarice dropped the rabbits at her feet. "We've had rabbit meat for more than a week! Can't you trap anything else?"
The young amazon put her hands on her hips, "I don't see you volunteering to catch anything!"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, "Well, let's see you try to be creative, cooking with the same meat day after day. I'm running out of ideas!"
Amarice smiled sarcastically, "Not my problem. I did my job. I catch it, you cook it!"
Watching the amazon walk away to sit by Xena, Gabrielle picked up the rabbits. Holding them like Sais, she ran toward Amarice, swinging them wildly. Amarice screamed and laughed, both disgusted and amused at the same time. Gabrielle accidentally clobbered her right over the head. They both stopped and stared. Amarice couldn't believe she'd hit her. Neither could Gabrielle!
Xena sat casually, enjoying the little show.
"Okay, that was too much!" Amarice said, slowly creeping toward Gabrielle.
"No no no!" Gabrielle giggled, backing away. She continued stepping back until she backed up against a tree and had no place to go.
Then Amarice lunged at her and began tickling her ribs. Gabrielle's new top gave her little protection against the assault. Screaming with laughter, Gabrielle tried to squirm away, pressing her elbows into her sides.
"Oh, no you don't!" Amarice laughed and began tickling her neck. When Gabrielle lifted her arms to cover her neck, Amarice poked her in the ribs again. She continued back and forth from ribs to neck.
"Stop! Stop!" Gabrielle finally groaned. Weak from laughter, she slid down the tree. Holding up her hands in surrender, she smiled, "Please, no more!"
Satisfied, Amarice grinned, and turned to get up. Suddenly, Gabrielle grabbed her under the arms, and pulled her down to the ground. Amarice howled as she was tickled mercilessly. In no time they were laying on the ground, holding their aching sides, laughing softly.
Xena walked over to them, a half-smile curling her lip. With a quick motion she held out her sword and plunged it into the ground between them. Startled, Gabrielle and Amarice rolled out of the way.
Xena pulled back her sword, the rabbits speared on the end. "If you're done rolling around on our lunch, I'll start skinning."
Amarice giggled and glanced at Gabrielle. But Gabrielle wasn't laughing. She was looking up into the sky with a frown on her face. "What is that?"
Xena quickly looked up. Amarice's mouth dropped open. Up on a hill in the distance, there stood a large castle. In the sky directly above it, a huge purple swirl twisted in the air. But there was no heavy wind or darkening clouds that usually accompanied such a phenomenon. That, and it being purple made it the strangest thing any of them had ever seen.
"Xena...?" Gabrielle stared at the thing. The swirling motion was mesmerizing, and she couldn't look away.
Xena shook her arm, snapping her out her daze. "C'mon, let's check it out!" she said, drawing her sword.
Their hunger was soon replaced by fear as they neared the castle. Xena could feel something dark in the air and wondered what they were getting into.
The gates stood open. The place seemed abandoned, lifeless.
"Where is everyone?" Gabrielle whispered. "A place like this should be crawling with guards. Especially at the gate."
Amarice nodded at the sky, "That thing probably scared everyone off. I know I wouldn't stick around."
Xena lead them through the gate and up to the door, "Well, why don't we find out?"
They entered cautiously, looking around for something, anything to explain all of this. Xena stopped suddenly and held her sword before her with both hands.
In front of them, a pale blue light grew and spread out of nowhere revealing a woman in flowing white robes carrying a tall candle. The flame burned brightly, but did not waver in the cold air or drip wax on the stone floor.
"Celesta!" Gabrielle breathed in wonder.
Amarice frowned, "Who?"
Before Gabrielle could explain, the ethereal figure spoke, "I am Celesta. Sister of the Great Hades. With my eternal flame, I guide those that I release in Death to the Underworld."
With wide eyes, Amarice stepped back, "Uh, you're not here for us, are you?"
Celesta smiled kindly, accustomed to the fear she naturally instilled in mortals, but shook her head.
Xena stepped forward, "What's going on?"
"Hades has asked to delay my duties here and wait for you. He wishes for you to speak with the remaining soul here before I release him."
Gabrielle gasped, "By the gods! All the people are dead?" The goddess nodded.
"And the reason he couldn't tell me himself...?" Xena asked.
The lovely goddess smiled sadly, "There was no time. Everyone here suddenly needed me. Very rarely does one person, let alone dozens, cross over without my brother knowing how and why."
Gabrielle titled her head in confusion, "All these people died and Hades doesn't know?"
"He would like you to find out for him."
Amarice's face brightened, "Cool! Where do we start?"
Xena held up a hand, "Hold it, Celesta. I'm sure Hades is aware that I'm not at any god's beck and call."
Celesta nodded, "Yes, he told me you'd be reluctant to do his bidding. He's relying on your new compassionate nature."
"That, and having a god owe us a favor might come in handy someday," Gabrielle quipped.
"That too," Celesta grinned.
Xena sighed, "All right, all right. Who am I supposed to talk to?"
Celesta pointed her candle toward a long staircase, "This way."
As they followed a good five steps behind her, Gabrielle nudged Amarice with her elbow, "Don't get too close, Amarice. Her touch is Death."
Amarice nodded, "No problem." She fell one more step behind, just to be safe.
"What was that huge purple swirl in the sky?" Gabrielle asked the floating woman.
The goddess glanced back at her, "Hades would like to know that, too."
At the top of the stairs a door stood open, pitiful moans coming from within. Stepping inside, the only thing they saw was total darkness. Moans floated up from the shadows. They all turned to Celesta.
"What's going on?" Xena asked angrily.
Celesta began to laugh, low and dark. Her face melted and distorted hideously, "Hades would like to know that, too!! HADES WOULD LIKE TO KNOW THAT, TOO!!" Her voice grew loud and intense, her face kept changing. One image after another stretching her features.
A huge force hit Xena first, knocking her into her friends, then they all flew back into the darkness. And down into the darkness. The door slammed shut, and the distorted figure, still laughing, faded away. "HADES WOULD LIKE TO KNOW THAT, TOOOOOO!"
It felt as if they fell forever. Gabrielle and Amarice screamed, flailing their arms and legs. Xena was too surprised to scream as they fell down, down, down deeper into the darkness. Slamming hard into the ground, they blacked out.
Xena was the first to wake. Quiet. She was surrounded by an unearthly quiet. A rotten stench was in the cold, lifeless air. Looking around, all Xena could see were endless passages cut through aged rock. getting up, she went over to Gabrielle, accidentally crunching something under her feet. It was a skull. Almost covering the floor were the remains of dozens of people. She had to get her friends out of here. She squatted next to Gabrielle and shook her awake.
"Gabrielle... Gabrielle!" she whispered urgently, and finally Gabrielle, somewhat groggy, opened her eyes.
"What... where are..." Gabrielle glanced around, saw the remains right next to her, and quickly shuffled to her feet.
"I don't know," Xena admitted, not liking the feel of the place. Gabrielle quickly shook Amarice awake, who let out a whimper at the chalk-white bones around her.
A low rumble came from one of the passages, then a rhythmic thumping.
"Xena...I don't like the sound of that," Gabrielle whispered, grabbing her Sais. Xena said nothing, just drew her sword and faced the oncoming noise.
Louder and louder it came, each thump shaking Xena's body. Amarice was terrified, looking frantically around, feeling little comfort even next to Xena and Gabrielle. A large form stepped from its dark tunnel, towering over them.
Standing over ten feet tall was a monstrous dog. It had no fur, only knotted skin stretched over muscles that rippled with every move. Large jaws made its head look twice as big with thick saliva dripping from its razor sharp teeth
Xena stepped back and gestured with her arm for Gabrielle and Amarice to get behind her. They did, but only slightly, not wanting her to face the creature alone.
"What is that?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Whatever it is, it stinks to high Olympus!" Amarice wrinkled her nose.
<Xena watched the animal closely, ready for any movement. "That's Graegus, Ares's pet pooch. I saw it a few years ago, the same time I met Hercules. It ate Darphus and disintegrated. We thought it was destroyed."
"Well, it's back now," Gabrielle turned her Sais around so they pointed out. "What do we do?"
Graegus stepped completely into the room and sniffed the air. With no warning, it let out a growl so loud it shook the ground and blew their hair back from their faces. Glancing quickly at the surrounding passages, most of them too small for the dog to get through, Xena decided they shouldn't wait for Graegus to make the first move.
"Let's go..." she whispered, edging them slowly backward into the tunnel behind them, still watching Graegus. The monster's jaws opened wide and snapped ferociously, startling them into a run. As they ran down the dark tunnel they could hear the canine crashing into the tunnel entrance, trying to jam itself inside after them.
The tunnel quickly ended and branched into three.
Gasping for breath, Amarice frowned, "Okay, now what?"
Xena waited as they all got their wind back, thinking. Do they pick one tunnel or split up and search them individually?
She had no time to decide, the ramming sound of Graegus grew louder and closer. The roof began to collapse and she had to protect her friends. A huge rock broke from the ceiling above, heading straight for them. Amarice and Gabrielle lunged into the far right passage, out of it's way. Xena was reluctantly forced into the left passage, and within seconds falling rocks blocked the entrance. She sighed, figuring her friends were safe. At least from Graegus.
Continuing down the tunnel, she called out for them. No response. She was hoping the passages would connect up ahead, but could sense she was moving away. Up ahead was a small light. Running toward it, she quickly realized the light wasn't small, just incredibly far away. "Just great!" she shook her head and continued down the seemingly endless tunnel.
"Xena? XENA!" Gabrielle yelled, hearing only the echo of her voice.
"She would have said something by now," Amarice pointed out, walking alongside Gabrielle. Their tunnel was pitch dark and they to feel their way along the walls. They soon came to a dead end. Gabrielle grabbed one of her Sais and began hacking at the wall. The rocks crumbled easily under the assault. Light sprayed through, and she continued chipping away, faster now, until she'd made a fair-sized opening.
They quickly climbed through, and to their surprise they saw they were back where they started. Across from them the huge form of Graegus had rammed more than half of its body through the passageway they had run through earlier.
"Uh... maybe we should go back," Gabrielle whispered. They turned to climb back through the opening, but bumped into solid rock. It had sealed itself up!
"Great! Now what do we do?" Amarice gritted her teeth in frustration.
The ground continued to shake as Graegus rammed further into the passage. Its ferocious growl shook the walls and chunks of rock fell from the ceiling.
"Come on," Gabrielle took Amarice's elbow, "let's try another tunnel. Quietly, okay? We don't want to disturb that...that thing." Amarice nodded and followed behind her as they crept carefully along the rock wall toward another tunnel. The ground and walls continued to shake with Graegus's efforts.
"OW!" Amarice shouted as a good-sized stone hit her shoulder and knocked her to the ground. The cave was suddenly very quiet. Gabrielle watched in horror as the monstrous dog backed quickly out of the passage. Grabbing the young amazon under the arms, she tried to drag her away.
"Ahhh! Gabrielle stop!" Amarice cried out as fiery shards of pain shot through her shoulder. Gabrielle dropped her gently. A foul stench filled the air. They looked up slowly to see Graegus staring straight at them. It inched toward them, growling softly. It could smell their fear and enjoyed it.
"Get up, Amarice," Gabrielle said out of the side of her mouth, not daring to move.
Amarice stared at the creature moving ever closer to her, and began to shake. "I... I c-c-can't!"
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes, "Look, you wannabe amazon twerp! We have to get out of here. Now MOVE!"
The insult shook Amarice out of her paralysis, and she glared up at Gabrielle. Scrambling painfully onto her feet, she backed up slowly, holding her throbbing shoulder.
"Okay, on three we're going to turn and run toward that tunnel," Gabrielle nodded at the closest one to their right. They continued to step back, holding their weapons out in front of them. "One..."
The growling became louder, Graegus only twenty feet away.
"Two... THREE!" Gabrielle screamed and whipped around, her heart racing. They ran for their lives toward the tunnel. It seemed so far away. Time seemed to slow down. The wind whistled by Gabrielle's ears as she ran with all she had.
Graegus watched them run and with a growl he bolted for them.
Heavy pounding thundered behind them. Graegus was catching up fast! Amarice could feel its breath on her body and she wasn't sure if she would make it. Graegus hit her and Gabrielle from behind with its nose, sending them flying right into the tunnel. They hit the ground hard, tumbling forward. Amarice screamed as her shoulder hit the hard rock. The dog tried biting at them, falling just inches short of Amarice's leg. They scuttled frantically backward, as far back as they could. Graegus couldn't reach them now, and they cried in happiness for making it this far.
Walking briskly toward the tiny light in the distance, Xena began to sing, "He's Joxer the Migh..." she quickly stopped herself. What was she doing? "Now I know how narrow minded Joxer is," she smirked, trying to amuse herself as she looked down the long tunnel. In fact, it was probably a good idea to sing something, anything to keep her mind busy. She wasn't used to so much quiet. She always had Gabrielle's chatter to fill the silence. The thought of Gabrielle brought things back into focus. Unconsciously, she began to walk faster.
Suddenly the ground gave way and Xena barely managed to grab onto the edge of the hole. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw there was not another tunnel beneath, but empty space. Dark, endless space. The rocks that crumbled from the hole made no sound as they fell forever.
Getting a firm hold on the rock floor, she pulled herself up slowly, not wanting to cause more to break away. Crawling up onto her knees, she backed away from the gaping expanse. It was about twenty feet across, not a difficult jump for the Warrior Princess. Bending her knees, she thrust herself forward, flipping in midair and landing neatly on the other side. Observing the hole once more, she kicked another stone into it. It dropped quickly out of sight. Listening closely, she could detect only the faintest of thuds. A very, very long way down.
She turned and noticed the light at the end of the tunnel had suddenly grown closer. Lifting an eyebrow, she walked quickly toward it.
"Xena!" a voice called up ahead.
The voice was muffled, so she couldn't recognize it. Xena frowned, but quickened her steps, almost jogging. the voice continued to call her name, getting louder as she neared the end of the tunnel. Finally at the end, she stepped into a dimly lighted room, and to her surprise saw nothing.
"Xena!" the voice now came from behind her. She drew her sword and spun around to see nothing but the endless pit in the distance. She walked slowly back to it.
"Xena!" it now came from below. It was beginning to sound familiar. Still muffled and a bit distorted, but it sounded like...
"Gabrielle!" she yelled, looking down into the pit, trying to see her friend.
"Xena! Where are you?" she said, her voice was becoming clearer.
"I'm right here, Gabrielle! Where are you? Where's Amarice?" Xena was relieved to her friend's voice.
"We fell in the pit! Help us Xena!" she pleaded. Xena crouched over the pit, trying to see something, anything.
"Amarice, can I speak to her?" Xena asked urgently, a disturbing thought in the back of her mind.
"She...she's unconscious. She hit her head on a rock," there was uncertainty in her voice.
"Gabrielle, is Joxer still with you?"
"N-no, we lost him in the caves. Xena, come down here. Hurry!"
Xena crawled away from the pit. It wasn't Gabrielle. Standing up, she headed back to the dimly lit room. "Xena? Xena! Help!" the voice begged, sounding just like Gabrielle. Xena blocked out the voice and entered the room.
I'm, sorry for hitting you with the rabbits," Gabrielle said, cradling Amarice in her arms, making sure not to move her wounded shoulder. Graegus was right outside the cave, eyes frozen on Gabrielle.
"If you can get us out of this, I'll call it even," Amarice said, trembling from the cold and trying to hide the pain she was in. The cave walls ended just a few feet behind them, and it seemed they were safe for now.
Click here to go to Hide and Seek Part 2
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