Disclaimers: See Part 1
Additional Note (Please Read): This tale is tied in with, The Conqueror & Ri: A Twist of Destiny. If you haven't read both stories' chapters preceding this one, you should do so now. I would also like to thank my readers and a shout out to Marijke S Bush, another chapter will be soon. ;-)
Xena & Gabrielle,
A Turn of Fate,
Chapter 12: Making Progress
Kenji made good on his word to bring a new candle for the lantern, food, and a tub for her. She devoured a little of the breakfast, but recollections of making love to Xena in the stream yesterday, made her have a strenuous time washing herself. When she was finished, fully dressed and equipped with her sais, the petite Amazon couldn't abide staying inside the cabin she'd once shared with her ex-fiancée. Now, Gabrielle stood on the upper deck, breathing in the noon breeze, pondering why was over one hundred Samurai converging on the main platform below.
'What is this all about?' Gabrielle mentally queried.
"Gabrielle San!" Zicalus shouted, walking up the side steps to join her.
"Hey, Zicalus." She greeted him.
The Samurai wore his blue armor, carrying the helmet under his left arm. He was also adorned with his weapons, and held a platter in his right hand.
"Kenji said I would find you here." He professed. "You ran so fast down the tier yesterday without saying anything. I was going to stop by your lodging, but I surmised you didn't want to be bothered. So, I saved you some of the nut bread."
Zicalus set his headgear and the oval dish on the wide, wooden railing.
Gabrielle looked at the handsome man as he moved the dark fringe of hair from his light-green orbs. "I'm flattered you thought about me. Thank you, howbeit, I'm not hungry."
"It's nut bread, Gabrielle San." Zicalus bit into a slice and chewed. "You've claimed yourself that it's your favorite."
"It is." She replied. "Either way, I won't be able to taste it. I've already used the pressure point for my seasickness."
Zicalus didn't concede. "Your tongue may be numb, nonetheless, your tummy will enjoy it. Kenji told me you hadn't eaten much this morning."
The bard rolled her eyes playfully. "What a tattletale. You know, I wasn't too fond of having anybody enter my cabin while I slept, but Kenji's politeness makes me okay with it."
"He cares for everyone, and your health. As do I, Gabrielle San. Now come on, and eat some of this with me." Zicalus persisted.
Gabrielle picked up a piece and ate it, then grabbed another, asking, "What's going on down there?"
"An inspection for training, I think." Zicalus theorized.
They consumed the sweet dessert in silence, whilst gazing at Xena and the red armored Harukata walk onto the bottom deck, which caused Gabrielle major discomfort in seeing her former lover.
The raven-haired overseer was in top form and couldn't wait to get started. After her drill session inside the spacious armory, Xena's mind was focused on the task at hand.
"Samurai warriors!" The Shogun addressed his two hundred men. "A great battle awaits us all in Japa! Our combat skills must surpass the numerous un-worldly fighters of Yodoshi's! Xena, the Warrior Princess, will be instructing you today!"
"This woman?" A man called out.
"She isn't a Samurai!" Someone else chimed in.
"What can a female teach us?"
Xena turned her back to the protesting men and blandly tugged Harukata in front of her.
"Tell them and make 'em understand I will be their instructor." She demanded.
The Shogun wasn't fond of being told what to do by anyone other than his goddess, but what choice did he have? If he didn't do what Xena requested, anent to his Samurai, she threatened to repeal her aid, and he couldn't risk that.
Harukata inclined his head and walked past her, pontificating to his men, "Xena is a woman, and she isn't a Samurai! Nevertheless, she's the finest combatant any of you will ever face! She will teach you all a lot!"
"She's the reason we're in this predicament!"
"It's her fault to begin with!"
Disturbed by the truthful comments, Xena shut her eyes. She was the cause of the quagmire that plagued Japa, and was compliant to be reminded everyday, whether by her own accord, or others. For this was why she had to lay down her life.
Observing the scene, Zicalus speculated, "Xena Sama looks to be either their sensei or their contender. Possibly the latter, though. A woman has never trained Samurai before."
"Why's that?" Gabrielle inquired, taking her eyes from Xena to look at Zicalus. "I've been apprised that in Japa's culture, women are inferior to men. Is it true?"
"Yes. It's forbidden to let females become a Samurai. They can defend their father's and husband's homes, but they cannot become one of us."
Gabrielle grew unsettled by the assertion. "That's unfair. Do you share those beliefs as well?"
Zicalus snatched the last portion of nut bread from the platter. "No, I believe women should be catered to and treated equally to their counterparts."
He brought his hand to Gabrielle's mouth to serve her the baked snack and she opened it, receiving the delicious bread that was tasteless to her. Zicalus liked that Gabrielle was accepting the dessert, while the cropped blonde wondered why she was letting the Samurai feed her. It was still true that she felt hurt for what transpired between her and Xena. Taking comfort in Zicalus' attentiveness, she hadn't noticed her soul mate was opening her cerulean irises to espy them.
Xena was unprepared for the sight that graced her. Atop the upper deck, Gabrielle was partaking in eating from Zicalus' hand. Envious fury invaded her as she looked upon Gabrielle's shy, smiling countenance.
Gabrielle took the slice of nut bread in her oral orifice when her eyes connected with Xena's. Withdrawing from Zicalus with haste, she accidentally closed her mouth on his fingers. To Xena's vision, it appeared like Gabrielle sucked Zicalus' digits.
"Whoa!" Zicalus exclaimed. "I'm sure you can't taste anything, Gabrielle San. 'Cause you nearly chomped my fingers off."
"Forgive me." Gabrielle apologized.
That was all she could say whilst her gaze locked with Xena's, until the tall woman broke it by whirling around.
"You will obey her commands and that is an order!" The Shogun enjoined.
The two hundred men grumbled amongst themselves when an incensed Xena spoke, "I'm here to not only succor y'all in liberating Japa of Yodoshi, but to cull out the best from the worse, too!"
"Who are you to decide?" A Samurai irately questioned.
'We'll do it the hard way then.' Xena was going to enjoy herself, unsheathing her sword. "Step forward and discover for yourself."
When the inquiring Samurai unsheathed his katana, Harukata stalked farther away from the forthcoming action, concurring that some examples had to be made.
"Didn't think you would show." He stated, once Koska settled beside him.
"I wasn't, but I knew you'd be here and I wanted to apologize for my conduct yesterday."
"All is forgiven." The Shogun responded. "Is that all, or did curiosity bring you, also?"
Koska smiled at Harukata's knowing inquisitiveness, while Xena twirled her blade twice and engaged the Samurai, making short work of him by sweeping his feet.
Without warning, another warrior entered the fray, swinging his katana towards Xena's neck, but she obstructed it and swirled their joined blades, causing him to lose his grip. Unarmed and defenceless, Xena did a jump kick, knocking him down as well. Next, a third Samurai stepped to the challenge.
"Xena Sama is amazing." The blue armored Zicalus peered over the top deck's railing, watching the Warrior Princess use a roundhouse kick to his fellow companion's temple. "I'm surprised he didn't fall from that attack."
Seeing Xena smack the Samurai on his rear with the flat side of her sword, Gabrielle determined what she was doing, "She's toying with them."
"What? You're saying this isn't her limit?"
The Amazon shook her head. "No, it is not."
After launching the third Samurai in midair from a left hook punch, Xena wanted to have more fun.
'If this is all they can offer in battle, they are in trouble.' She descried the remaining Samurai, noting that most of them were eager to fight her, coaxing her to grin. "Is this it! The greatest Samurai out the entirety of Shinto can't defeat a woman? I bet you all couldn't take me down together!"
With the challenging announcement spoken, every standing warrior tried to assail her at once.
"What is she doing?" Koska got concerned. "This is not training. It's a free-for-all."
The Shogun stayed quiet throughout his men's trouncing.
Zicalus was getting excited, curious if he would do better than the Samurai on the lower platform. He was part of the Shogun's gilt-class, so of course his potential outweighed theirs.
But could he defeat Xena?
"You think I'd do well against Xena Sama?"
Gabrielle hadn't heard Zicalus' question. She was dismayed by Xena's presence on the main deck, manhandling her challengers.
'What to make of the look that passed between us after Zicalus fed me? Was it disbelief? Envy? Jealousy? Is she blowing off steam by beating these guys up? Ugh! What right does Xena have to display any emotions for what I'm doing with Zicalus!' Gabrielle ruminated. 'She broke up with me. I'll do as I please.'
Eyeing the beautiful features of Zicalus, the short-haired blonde wasn't attracted to him, although Xena accused her of it.
Finally, Gabrielle realized his lips were moving. "What was that?"
"I'd asked do you think I would do well against Xena Sama?"
"I wouldn't try it." Gabrielle answered in a concise manner. "She'll probably injure you for spite of what we've done."
Zicalus became dumbfounded. "What did we do to cause Xena Sama to be spiteful?"
"You fed..." Gabrielle halted her reply.
She was positive no one abroad the humongous warship had knowledge of her intimate relationship with Xena. Just like nobody were aware of its end.
"It's nothing, but Xena can be jealous over me sometimes." She conveyed, choosing to alter the subject, "You, the Shogun, and the other two men, who'd traveled with us, wear splendid armor unlike the rest of the Samurai I've beheld thus far. Are you of a higher rank?"
"We are." Zicalus pronounced proudly. "Myself, Morimoto, Koska, and Moku are elite Samurai. I've been tutored by Moku since I came into his care."
"Really?" Gabrielle was intrigued. "Tell me more about your upbringing, if you don't mind sharing."
Zicalus became inflamed to talk about his life with the lovely bard. "My mother is Greek and thirst for adventure. So, she left Greece and found her way to Japa. It was there she'd met a Samurai warrior from Shinto. They fell in love and I was conceived from their union. My father loved her and me. We... We were happy."
'It's obvious that Xena and I could never attain happiness, but would I have achieved marital bliss had my husband stayed alive? Would I have given him children and lived happily?' Gabrielle's thoughts of her marriage to Perdicus ended, while she gazed at Zicalus' visage.
His expression turned gloomy. "A skirmish erupted when I was ten and my father was sent to resolve it. The situation got solved, but my father didn't survive. He was killed during the conflict and my mother wasn't the same afterwards."
Gabrielle placed her hand on his forearm, relating to losing a parent. "I'm sorry for your lost."
"It was a long time ago." He purported. "My mother understood that my father was doing his duty. She just couldn't understand why he had to die. She decided to return back to her homeland. However, I wanted to stay. Don't get me wrong, I love my mother, but I'd learned the history of the Samurai and craved to become one. My mother was reluctant to let me remain at first, but once Moku swore to taking me under his excellent guardianship, she assented to the idea. Mostly because he was my father's closest friend, and she acknowledged my will to become a Samurai. Moku trained me and I haven't ever seen my mother again."
"Do you miss her?" Gabrielle urged.
"All the time." Zicalus admitted. "Still, I wouldn't change my decision to stay in Japa for anything. Moku was content with me as his pupil. It wasn't 'til recently that I was elevated to a first-class Samurai. A shame it coincided with Moku's mutilation by the daemon, Yodoshi."
"It was him?" Gabrielle gasped from the realization. "The weapon master... Moku was the sole survivor."
"That's why he have those hideous scars on his face." Zicalus expressed. "It's not only there, either. The fiend made incisions all over his body."
"Yodoshi is a cruel monster. Hopefully his end is near."
"I'm sure it is, Gabrielle San. Xena Sama is gonna repair everything. It's a terrible price she'll have to pay, though." Zicalus implied.
'I don't want to hear anything concerning Xena... Wait a moment.' Gabrielle's interest rose. "What did you say?"
The Shogun made every Samurai swear on their honor not to inform Gabrielle of Xena's fate, and Zicalus became conscious of his error.
"The fact all of this is occurring is terrible." Zicalus speedily rectified. "Having you and Xena Sama technically forced to help in Japa's affairs must be a big price to pay, I suppose."
"But you only mentioned Xena, not me." She pressed.
"A slip of mind frame." Zicalus lied, and quickly diverted the topic with an inquiry he'd kept since yesterday. "Are you married, Gabrielle San?"
Gabrielle touched the silver band on her index finger; the ring Xena presented to her in Thebes. She caressed the engravings of primary words that were a foretelling of lies. Yet, why hadn't she removed it? Whilst she bathed earlier, Gabrielle was bestraddled with cogitations of taking it off or keeping it on, until she discarded the circlet item out her head altogether.
"I was married... Once." Gabrielle avowed softly. "He died after our wedding night."
"Oh... My condolences." Zicalus wasn't ready for such an answer. "Pardon me for bringing it up."
"It's alright, Zicalus. It was a long time ago for me, too."
Xena's famous war cry sounded in the air, causing Zicalus to glance at the horrendous thrashing of the Samurai, and he chose to test his skills. It would give him a chance to reorganize a plan on how to approach Gabrielle for courtship, also.
"I'm gonna go down there."
Gabrielle let loose a sigh. "Okay, but I did warn ya."
Zicalus gave her a heartwarming smile, prior to grabbing his helmet. Putting it on, he descended the stairs to his amazing opponent.
Xena lost count of the many Samurai she had felled. She was in battle-mode as her reflexes relayed the process of dodge, parry, counter, attack, while refraining from maiming and wounding any of the men. Xena became cognizant of the final man, getting inside his personal space and hitting him on the head with the hilt of her sword.
Then, there were none.
Koska was in stunned awe of how easy it seemed for the Warrior Princess to triumph over the two hundred Samurai, but Harukata didn't share his feelings. He was infuriated and took a step towards Xena to let her know, but seeing Zicalus traipse to the woman who his frustration were directed to, the Shogun stopped.
Xena hardly broken a sweat from beating on the, inaccurately termed, best Samurai their Shogun had proclaimed them to be. She pivoted on her boots when her instincts entailed that someone was behind her. Xena must have appeased a vengeful deity, for standing in front of her was the source of her aggravation.
'Zicalus.' She mused with delectation.
To say that Zicalus was nervous, would be an understatement. His palms was clammy, knees felt weak, and his arms were growing heavy. He feared if he used his katana it would get knocked out of his sweaty hands. Reaching over his shoulder, Zicalus drew his naginata.
Xena had a huge grin on her lips as she sheathed her sword and un-clipped her yin-yang chakram, wielding it by the bar in the middle. She was uncertain if she wanted to dally with Zicalus or hastily plant him on his back similar to the many Samurai whom were groaning and trying to get onto their feet.
'I'll have fun with him, also.' Xena affirmed, temporarily showing her joyous smile to Gabrielle.
The Amazon knew the game Xena was anxious to get underway. 'God, she can be a bitch sometimes.'
She did advise Zicalus not to fight Xena. Now he was going to be dissected by her jaundiced ex-lover till she was bored of him. Gabrielle wanted to yell, 'Kick Xena's ass, Zicalus', but she already could discern who the victor was gonna be. Even if the blue armored, elite Samurai was an adapt fighter, Xena was going to win regardless. The bard had no voracity to see him get humiliated. She only prayed he wouldn't get bruised and hurt too badly, while both competitors charged each other.
Zicalus swung his metallic pole, missing Xena when she slid beneath it on her knees. Next, she executed a spinning slash with her chakram, slightly scraping the armor that covered Zicalus' torso area. Getting to her feet, their weapons clashed together repeatedly, causing the young Samurai to become more tenacious to land a blow.
Xena aimed a deliberate, sluggish, right kick to Zicalus' leg, becoming jovial once he had moved it from harm, the way she had planned. Using the same foot, she kicked his lower chest, forcing him backwards. The attack was so fast, Zicalus hadn't had the opportunity to perceive it. Centralizing his focus on a different offense, he rapidly thrust the base of his naginata at Xena, shaking off annoyance and adoration for how superb the female warrior fluidly evaded each strike without blocking with her circular weaponry.
Choosing to aim a low jab to her waist, Zicalus got the result he wanted when she parried it downwards with her chakram. Lunging forward to start her own offensive, Xena almost didn't see it coming as he extended the long, hidden blade that was concealed inside the top part of his pole. Swaying her head from being impaled, she performed a backflip.
'Play time is over.' She cogitated, throwing her chakram whilst aerial.
Zicalus instinctively blocked it, making the singular disc divide. Perched on the deck, the Warrior Princess retrieved the returning two halves in both hands and rushed the bewildered Samurai. Her attacks were delivered with effective celerity, and all he could do was defend. Xena implemented an axe kick, swatting the naginata loose from Zicalus' grasp. Rendered disarmed, he swiftly unsheathed his katana to shield himself from Xena's continuous strikes with her twin weapons.
Xena could tell he was getting winded and crouched to elbow Zicalus in his stomach. The shell that protected him, couldn't null the pain he felt from the hit.
'How did I allow her to penetrate my defenses?' He wondered, out of breath.
His arms barely registered the notion to intercept one of the chakrams. As the projectile rebounded off his katana, Zicalus wasn't prepared to be dazed by the second half that ricocheted against his helmet. While the yin and yang chakrams bounced off the warship's mast and united once more, Xena took advantage of Zicalus' disorientation.
Letting her battle shout ring out, Xena set her left foot on his chest-plate and propelled herself upwards, initiating a twirling heel kick, detaching Zicalus' protective headgear from his head. Upon landing, she grasped the revolving chakram out the air and clipped it to her side.
Zicalus could hardly keep a grip on his katana, let alone stand. Xena relieved him of both tiresome options when she tackled him to the floorboards. To her, none of the Samurai were good, including Zicalus.
Evil cognition ran through Xena's brain. 'You are a useless warrior, Zicalus. You want to seduce and fuck Gabrielle, but you can't protect her!'
Forming a hard knuckle, she assaulted the vulnerable man underneath her.
'Assumed you could gain points with her by defeating me!' Xena bashed him a second time. 'Pretty boy, huh? Let's see if Gabrielle will think you're attractive after I break your face!'
Raising her fist to do just that, a voice pulled her back to sanity.
Glimpsing around, she recognized the vocal bellow originated from Harukata. Koska's impression of Xena had sour again, whilst he viewed her lifting up from the overwhelmed blue armored Samurai, and gait to them.
"If the rest of your warriors aren't better than these Samurai, y'all are just as doomed as I am." Xena explicated.
"Yes, Shogun?" He rejoined, ready to inflict punishment on Xena.
"Get them back onto their feet. The ones that has dexterity, have them help Zicalus."
Koska shook his head disapprovingly at Xena, before doing what was commanded.
"You call that training?" Harukata prompted.
"No." Xena smirked. "I call it making progress."
Harukata lost his cool. "You litter the deck with my Samurai without giving them a positive, constructive instruction, and you say it's progress?"
"They were going to give me a problem and I don't have the patience for that." Xena averred. "Next time, everything will go smoothly."
The Shogun scoffed. "There won't be a next time."
"We had a deal, Harukata."
The red armored Shogun hated the fact he needed Xena and, albeit, he haven't sworn on his honor to let her inspect his Samurai, he had faith she was striving to leave Gabrielle some type of protection by making the eight hundred Japian warriors a proficient fighting force.
He relented. "Tomorrow I'll bring the second group of two hundred. Despite that, if you deviate from the purpose of training, we will have to work out another agreement."
Knowing that she'd won a victory, 'cause of Harukata's complying disposition, Xena had a smug look.
Not caring for her pompous mien, he moved closer to her and threatened, "And if you abuse them the way you did Zicalus, you'll have to swim back to Greece, because I will gratefully throw you off my vessel."
Then, he went below deck without giving Xena a chance to retort. Rolling her eyes at his nugatory threat, the Warrior Princess self-righteously looked at the Shogun's Samurai. Majority of them were standing and some remained in pain, whilst a few assisted Zicalus. Turning her attention to where she last spied Gabrielle, Xena beamed brightly so she could gloat, but frowned once she eyed the higher platform.
The dark-haired man was desperately holding onto consciousness, deeply embarrassed of getting thumped, and terrified that the Amazon saw it happen. Light-green orbs glanced to the upper deck and Zicalus became delighted.
Gabrielle was gone.
To Be Continued
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