Disclaimers: See Part 1
Additional Note 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 like to thank all my readers, and a special shout out to J Dublin. Please, continue to enjoy. :)
Feedback always welcomed, sometimes needed at, Martinkendell19@yahoo.com
Xena and Gabrielle,
A Turn of Fate,
Chapter 14: Problematic Instigator
Two hundred men were all swinging their katanas in sync as Xena observed them. Everything had developed like she'd expected a couple of weeks ago. The second squad of Samurai, who'd faced her inspection, were far more accommodating after hearing what happened to the first group of warriors before them. From then onwards, every Samurai did what the raven-haired woman instructed, and their drills continued flawlessly.
Xena glanced at her left index finger, remembering one tiny occurrence. 'Well, it almost was perfect.'
The day she'd fretted taking off the golden ring that Gabrielle had given to her, caused Xena to become truculent, and during the following week when a lone Samurai began acting troublesome, she tried to coax the man into fighting her to relieve the anguish. The Japian man was cognizant of the many stories about his fellow compatriots, declining her challenge. Exceedingly ardent to battle someone, she called the honorable Samurai a scared coward, making him feel obligated to defend his reputation. The Warrior Princess was certain she wouldn't get another opportunity to combat any of the others, so she dallied with him throughout the bout. They battled for a full hour, until it came to a conclusion when the Samurai passed out from fatigue.
That was six days ago, and whilst the Samurai trained, Xena ruminated over her band, wishing she hadn't taken it off in the first place. It was the only item she had from the bard and Xena wanted it on her finger when her death came. She haven't seen Gabrielle since the day she defeated all of the Samurai on the bottom deck and thrashed Zicalus. Xena regretted nothing from the encounter that cultivated the pummeling of the blue armored warrior. The weeks' curing had been kind to Zicalus in duration of his healing; he once again could move around freely without pain and had no more visible bruises on his jaw.
Dressed in his red kimono, the Shogun walked towards her. "I have to give you credit. You did manage to keep them in line and obey your commands without further fiascos."
Xena presented a side look, reminding him of what transpired several days prior.
"Minus the one time." He amended. "I don't know what that was all about. Nonetheless, you've proven you can be trusted with your word."
"They have gotten much faster and aren't quick to exertion." Xena stated. "I will commence pairing them up to duel one another. After I've tested the four squads separately, I'll have the victors from every squad spar one-on-one against each other, 'til I deem the greatest out of all eight hundred Samurai."
Harukata gazed at his men, noticing the difference in the time frame of fourteen days. His opinion of Xena was changing from problematic instigator of Japa, to enigmatic combatant. Her skills set was formidable and he continuously wondered how she had acquired different styles of notable techniques. Knowing that the cropped blonde learned from Xena as well, he had huge expectations for Gabrielle's training.
"When will you have them paired?" Harukata asked.
"Once I see the first squad again in three days." Xena responded, wondering about their destination. "How close are we to Japa's Sea? I feel we are far off."
"We are leaving the Mediterranean. By my estimation, we will reach Japa in a month and an half."
'Then, I die.' She thought bitterly.
Xena prepared herself to do what was required of her, however, she truly missed Gabrielle. Two weeks of not seeing, nor feeling the presence of the petite Amazon, jaded her.
"Do you have concernment for when it comes to fulfilling your role?" The Shogun inquired.
"I know what I'm to do." Xena avowed. "Why though? Why does Akemi need me in the Spirit Realm?"
"The blade you used to decapitate Akemi has linked you both together." Harukata answered.
"The Sacred katana is a relic of Amaterasu's. It was guarded by a chosen of the sun Kami." He replied. "You were the sole person to have ever committed a kill with it. By Akemi being the individual you'd beheaded, y'alls souls became connected to each other through the sword. Only together in death can the Sacred katana become powerful enough to incapacitate Yodoshi so I'll be able to strike the fatal blow to him."
"It was an elder Samurai who had the katana in his possession." Xena recalled the day she murdered a retinue of men and attacked the old man she'd been told was Yodoshi's sensei.
"Yes." The Shogun concurred. "He was the protector of the blade."
'He wasn't Yodoshi's master? Did you lie to me, Akemi... Are there other lies, too?' Xena mentally questioned, confessing, "I killed him and took it from his possession."
"I'm aware of that." Harukata affirmed. "Was it power you sought when you slayed him for the sword?"
"Yes. Also, I was apprised that he was Akemi's father's sensei. Is it true?"
"No, Xena. He was simply a chosen follower of Amaterasu." The Shogun divulged.
"My apologies to your goddess." She declared.
Harukata bowed slightly as Xena strolled to his Samurai. He became grateful, for he had a secret session to get underway.
"You all have done well!" Xena extolled loudly.
The Samurai halted their actions, yelling in unison, "Thank you, Xena Sama!"
"That will be all for today! The next time, I will be dividing everyone into pairs and have y'all duel! The winners will be placed in my special class of Samurai and move on to combat the warriors in the other squads!" Xena elucidated. "Dismissed!"
Every Samurai sheathed their katanas and inclined their heads at the spectacular female who tutored them.
Greenish-blue irises opened for another glorious day of learning and practicing. Gabrielle was excited she'd accepted Harukata's proposal to become a Samurai. The young blonde cried a whole day after the Shogun's initial offering; sadness for the loss of Xena overwhelmed her. The next day, Gabrielle acquiesced to Harukata and she gradually was regaining a tinge of happiness.
The bard discovered so many wonders concerning the Samurai, ascertaining their history and the Bushido code of honor they followed. She was taught how to handle a katana, understanding that it was to be gripped by both appendages, in lieu of one. Gabrielle's hand movements had become quicker due to becoming versed in aikido because of Harukata, her new sensei. She'd gained a sense of peace throughout her practice with meditation and self-discipline. It aided her conscience to not be bothered, nor hindered by constant worrying of matters she simply couldn't control.
Slowly as time went on, Gabrielle found herself pondering on her soul mate less. The dream of an older Xena and Glaphyra slaughtering a legion of Romans, dissipated from her cognition completely. Gabrielle procured comfort in her erudition and had to admit, she felt damn good. Even the Shogun acknowledged her newly defined abilities with adoration each evening they met up inside the empty armory that was only occupied by them. Her appetite for food flourished again and Harukata helped Gabrielle learn to endure the motion of the waves without getting nauseous. It was hard for a few days, but eventually she overcame her seasickness.
'Cause of Kenji, Harukata, and his Samurai, Gabrielle knew her ex-lover's daily schedule. Firstly, the Warrior Princess would start her mornings going to the armory, although the Amazon already had knowledge of Xena's early drill sessions when she almost accidentally bumped into her. Secondly, Xena would teach the squads on the main deck in the afternoon. Finally, she would return to her cabin and be scarce for the remainder of the day. Gabrielle fell into a routine as well, staying in bed during the dawn to partake in a conversation with the amiable monk once he brought her fresh basin of water and breakfast. Thereon, she would seek internal reflection and rest her mind, or visit Zicalus who was still recovering from Xena's assault. Then, she'd be off to the armory to sharpen her discipline and study with Harukata.
'The Shogun said I am progressing beyond his expectations.' Gabrielle cogitated. 'I hope I don't disappoint him.'
Arising from the cot in her new room that Harukata bestowed upon her, Gabrielle slipped off the night shift she wore to bed, so she could put on her red halter, skirt, and boots. The bard liked the cabin she now resided in better than the one she and Xena shared before. It had a window, making it easier to discern night from day, and she was on the first tier, allowing easy access to the armory, including Zicalus. The blue armored elite had recently become fully healed and Gabrielle decided to see him.
Trekking towards the basin, she splashed her face a couple of times when her eyes glimpsed Xena's golden ring that was resting beside the bowl atop the table. Gabrielle couldn't leave it in the old, third tier dwelling she had left. Her perception begged the notion to let it remain in the room and be forgotten, but small fingers had grabbed the gold circlet, taking it along with her. Xena didn't want the ring anymore and was willing to abandon it, albeit, Gabrielle wouldn't yield to feeling the same way.
Closing out her ruminations of a bonding that would never take place, Gabrielle dried her face of the water, equipped her sais, and departed the cabin.
Light-green orbs examined his hands, while he tediously clenched and unclenched them. The Samurai was joyful about his returned vitality when a soft tap vibrated on his cabin door.
"Come in." Zicalus announced.
Gabrielle entered inside, espying the healthy man whilst he stood in his blue kimono. "Look who's up."
Zicalus instantly hugged her. "Gabrielle-Chan."
Over the span of several days that Gabrielle had visited Zicalus, he began calling her Chan in place of San after awhile.
The Amazon hadn't queried why, until now, "I did not ask before, but please, tell me what is the difference between San and Chan?"
Their embrace ended and Zicalus blushed a little. "Well, San is our basic way of addressing adults. Kun is for anyone younger than adulthood. Sama is for persons of high esteem, such as the Warrior Princess or Shogun. Um, Chan is for those of close affection."
Gabrielle's heart warmed at the confession. "Thank you, Zicalus. Are you sure I deserve such a charming honorific?"
"Yes, you do." He rejoined.
Zicalus smiled. "You are dear to me, Gabrielle-Chan. I'm gracious for all your visitations and the stories you've recited to me. Surely you're far deserving of its title."
"I'm grateful, Zicalus. You are so kind." Gabrielle proclaimed, none the wiser of Zicalus' deep affections for her.
"Think nothing of it. Besides, I should be thanking you."
"For checking on you?" She prompted. "You don't have to. It was my pleasure."
"No, not that." Zicalus sat on the edge of his cot. "I should have listened to you."
Gabrielle knew what he was implying. "Zicalus, it's okay. You're alive and well recovered. That's all that matters."
"You tried to warn me. I thank you for that." Zicalus praised. "You were right, I shouldn't have challenged Xena Sama."
Gabrielle had not question Zicalus regarding his battle with Xena, because she didn't want to pry, or open painful memories. Not just for his sake, but hers also, whereas talking of Xena could possibly break the walls Gabrielle built to keep the blue-eyed woman out of her cerebration. Yet, Zicalus was her friend and he probably needed to speak of his experience. She only hoped the intangible barrier that she'd created wasn't fragile.
Gabrielle settled near him and clutched his hand, asking, "Do you want to talk about what happened?"
"Xena-Sama is... is so fast. Right from the beginning she got a hit on me by slashing my armor. We traded blows with our weapons before she wiled me out and kicked me in my chest. I switched to my offensive, but she easily dodged every strike I'd attempted to land. It was both amazing, howbeit, unsettling, because I couldn't touch her. I got a bit miffed and set up a strategy for her. When she parried my attack, I unsheathed the blade in my naginata." Zicalus' explication ceased and he looked at Gabrielle with a melancholic expression. "I could have killed her."
Gabrielle's pulse jumped at the statement that Zicalus could've gravely harmed her soul mate. "You didn't, though."
"She evaded it and performed a backflip. All-of-a-sudden, and beforehand of her feet touching the deck, Xena-Sama threw her disc weapon at me."
"Her chakram." Gabrielle disclosed.
"That's what it's called?" Zicalus inquired, getting a positive nod from Gabrielle. "Her chakram had split in two. They rebounded back to her, thus she attacked fiercely with them, disarming me and causing me to draw my katana. I could barely keep at her pace. I grew very tired and she could tell. Xena-Sama elbowed me in the stomach... It was painful."
Zicalus appeared as if he was reliving the moment, erstwhile, Gabrielle silently awaited for him to continue.
Shortly, he restarted his purport of events, "I was out of breath and thinking how did I allow her to penetrate my defences, when out of nowhere, she tossed one halve of her chakram at me. I'd hardly managed to block it. After that, I'm not certain what bounced off my headgear, but I assume it was the other half that rattled my brain. I stood and watched while Xena-Sama practically used my chest as a step-stool, knocking the helmet from off of my head with a spinning heel kick. Everything became fuzzy, all I can recollect is her tackling me to the floorboards and punching me in the jaw. It felt like I got hit by a ton of bricks. I'd passed out briefly from the impact. The Samurai from the first squad attested that she punched me twice... but I... I didn't feel the second slog."
Gabrielle's hand remained holding Zicalus' during his recount. She wished she'd coerced him out of fighting Xena. Instead, Gabrielle let him get tangled in the thread that the former Destroyer of Nations was more than delighted to weave.
"What for?" Zicalus was confused.
"I should have stopped you. I knew she wanted to toy with you and cause pain." Gabrielle elaborated.
"Don't be sorry, Gabrielle-Chan. I desired to engage Xena-Sama. It was my choice and mine alone. You did all you could by warning me. I did not pay heed to it, so I've paid the consequences." Zicalus squeezed her extremity gently. "She really does get jealous over you, huh?"
Gabrielle detached their clasp. "Yes. Although I don't understand why she's doing it now."
"Maybe, she is in love with you."
'She hates me and only wants to control my actions!' Her brain screamed.
The bard's quietness made Zicalus curious. "Do you love her?"
"You have been in bed for too long." Gabrielle changed the subject. "How about a stroll, prior to my engagement with the Shogun?"
"That would be most welcomed." Zicalus grinned.
They both arose from the cot and traipsed out of the cabin.
Traversing the ship's tier, the Samurai urged, "Is your training with the Shogun going better than expected?"
"Yes!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "I'm learning so much. We always train by ourselves and sometimes I spar with Kenji using staffs if the Shogun is preoccupied with other affairs."
"You are also studying our philosophies?"
"Uh-huh." She verbalized. "Y'alls code of honor is very interesting to me."
"What's the interest?" Zicalus wondered.
"Hmm." Gabrielle was musing on how best to reply to Zicalus' query. "For me to answer that absolutely, you'll have to know everything that I've gone through my entire adult life."
"You can't give me the short version?" Zicalus joked with a smirk.
"Okay." The Amazon nudged him playfully. "I didn't always want to be a warrior. My path was on a different trek. Withal, decisions in my life has altered my irenic course, causing me to walk the Way of the Warrior. The Bushido code of the Samurai gives me a true concept of goodness."
"An honorable Samurai doesn't harm innocent people and they don't assail unarmed persons. They're relatively peaceful, 'til provoked by violence, or an insult to dishonor them." Gabrielle asserted. "If a Samurai disregard the Bushido code and break their oath, they absolve themselves of honor and are sentenced to hara-kiri, using their tanto to commit suicide. Extreme for my taste, but understandable all the same."
Zicalus laughed, turning to Gabrielle with a grin. "I haven't ever presumed I'll see the day when a female would be informing me about Samurai's obligations."
"Hey, careful now. Wouldn't want to show you what I can do in a duel, too." Gabrielle half-heartedly admonished.
"Did I mention you're a beautiful Samurai." Zicalus tried appeasing her.
Gabrielle's cheeks reddened at the acclaim, next she became serious once more. "Koska doesn't like the idea of my training, and I don't know how Moku feels. Also, I appreciate your compliment, but I'm not a Samurai yet."
"You will be soon." Zicalus professed. "Moku's alright with your tutelage under our leader, but Koska believes in tradition to its core. He's not content with Xena-Sama instructing the Samurai either. Notwithstanding, he will have to tolerate it because the Shogun makes the final decree."
Gabrielle sighed. "Either way, I'll get to know everyone better. If not while on board this vessel, it will be when we get to Japa. Hopefully after we defeat Yodoshi, we'll be well acquainted once we reach Shinto."
"You're remaining in Shinto? Permanently?" Zicalus nearly swooned.
"I have no other place to go. Xena is..." She hesitated. "I... I don't want to be alone."
Zicalus discerned her somber tone. "Greece is your home, Gabrielle-Chan. Do you not have family there?"
"Only my sister and my niece." Gabrielle snickered. "My life is so weird, my younger sister is older than me."
"Her maturity cannot surpass yours." Zicalus speculated.
"Perhaps not. I've witnessed a lot in my time." Gabrielle subconsciously twirled the silver band on her index finger.
Zicalus glanced at the Amazon's digits. "Does that ring remind you of your deceased husband?"
Gabrielle swiftly halted the activity, noting that she would play with the jade gemstone when her psyche wandered. "It reminds me of what I once had."
"You must've really loved him."
"I still do." Gabrielle referred to Xena, scratching at the mental wall she had intact.
Shaking the memory of fun-loving times with the woman of her dreams, Gabrielle realized they had arrived at the armory.
"The Shogun may already be here. Want to come in with me? Work out your stiff bones that's been idle for weeks?"
"Yeah. I could use some practice." Zicalus conceded.
Stepping to the double doors, Gabrielle averred, "Don't rush yourself, Zicalus. Be patient and let your body get back into the swing of things before going all out. You don't want to overexert yourself."
"I will pace myself, Gabrielle-Chan." Zicalus agreed. "See how intelligent you are with giving sound advise. There's no way that your younger sister can be older than you."
"Actually, she's more than twenty years my senior."
"What?" Zicalus gaped, composing himself with a chuckle. "You're having a thrill at my expense. You must be the youngest, 'cause how is it feasible for your little sibling to age beyond you?"
Gabrielle opened the door, smiling. "Frozen and preserved in an ice cave will do that to ya."
Choosing to indulge her, Zicalus probed, "For how long?"
"Twenty-five years." Gabrielle pronounced, trudging into the armory and leaving a bewildered dark-haired Samurai behind.
To Be Continued
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