Disclaimers: Xena: Warrior Princess belongs to Studio USA and Renaissance Pictures, and my heart. No infringement on these rights were intended. This is strictly non-profit fan based fiction.

Subtext Disclaimer: In case you haven't noticed, subtext is maintext now. I tried to keep all the characters true to their depiction as in the show. However, I couldn't help but insert a bit of sexual innuendo between women. It might get a bit steamy, but nothing explicit.

This story is just another adventure for our female heroes somewhere after season six (Finale? What season finale?).

I've rated this story NC-21, for nudity, sexual content, and violent content. Yes, there is violence, just like in the show. If you are under the age of 21, you might want to consult with a parent or legal guardian before reading this or maybe it's best that you don't read this at all.

Written by: Allyson Heisey, aheisey760@aol.com http://www.awebcreation.com

 

Hunger In The Night

Chapter 1

It was time. She was the hunter and he was the prey. He was tall and thin, but muscular and tanned. His face was deeply chiseled, strong and young. She watched him as he set down his empty beer glass, kiss the woman he was chatting with and walk towards the exit of the pub. Setting down her mug as well, she followed him. The young man stepped out into the night and hailed a cab which cut across a lane on the busy street and screeched to a halt at the curb amidst a few blaring horns. He entered the cab and it sped away. Stepping out of the shadow of the pub’s awning a tall dark form emerged. Her hair was long and the dark tresses glimmered blue in the light of the moon. Her eyes were the clearest and purest of blue. Her dark leather pants creaked quietly when she stepped up to the curb and hailed an approaching cab. When it came to a stop against the curb, a black leather gloved hand reached out and grasped the chrome handle of the passenger door. A flash of silver shone from a buckle and a wisp of white lace peeked out from underneath a black leather jacket. Black leather boots moved silently into the cab, the spurs winking in the muted interior dome light.

As the two cabs navigated through the busy streets of downtown, Washington, DC., Xena gazed out the window of the cab and took in the sight of the Nations Capital. Its brightly lit, ghostly white structure stood in stark contrast against the black evening sky. Guards with patrol canines walked in silent sentry across the grounds behind a massive iron fence. The large pink buds of the short and stout cherry trees shone with a surreal light in the full moon. The cabs passed several federal buildings and continued down Constitution Avenue, also known as the mall. The mall was quiet this night, only a few homeless folks lay in the thick grass and on benches that lined the expansive grounds between the Capital and the Lincoln Memorial. Even the reflecting pool was still, not a ripple marred its smooth surface which was black in the night, like oil.

The cab she was following stopped at the steps to the Lincoln Memorial and a man alighted. She instructed her driver to stop and waited for the other cab to drive away before stepping out into the night and following.

She glided up the alabaster marble steps of the timeless monument intent in following her prey. She flitted behind a marble column when the sound of voices reached her ears. The shadow of the monument stole over her and cloaked her form. The coldness of the marble seeped through her leather jacket and cooled the perspiring skin on her back when she pressed herself flat against it. She glanced up at the large limestone statue and met the gentle gaze of a bearded president long gone. She turned her head and peered cautiously around the column. Two dark forms stood alone at the opposite end of the monument, silhouetted by the full moon.

"You said you had information for me." the young man said.

"Yes. We found the location of the cult." a female voice answered.

"Good. What else do you know about them?" he inquired.

"They have been performing rituals. I think they may be responsible for the killings." the woman said slowly after a brief pause.

There was a long beat of silence.

"You mean as in vampires?" His voice was incredulous. "Ridiculous!" he admonished.

Xena’s eyes narrowed, captivated by the conversation taking place.

"Think what you will, but this cult is evil, very evil. They must be stopped." the woman said, there was an edge to her voice.

"All right, but I want more information. We will meet again, Mr. B."

Xena raised a dark brow when he turned and walked away. The woman stood and watched until his form disappeared into the shadows. Turning, she walked across the marble platform and down the steps passing a form hidden in the shadows. Xena’s nostrils flared when the woman’s sweet scent drifted over her.

The hunger forgotten for now, Xena turned from the marble pillar and followed the woman from the monument at a discreet distance. As if sensing that she was being followed, the woman turned, stopped, and glanced behind her and Xena darted quickly into the shadows. Warily, the woman turned back and walked for several blocks before changing direction. Xena followed and kept to the shadows to avoid being discovered. The woman opened a iron gate, stepped through, closed the gate behind her and walked down a brick walkway lined with floral and shrubbery. Xena watched her enter the residence from behind one of the large elms that lined the street.

Xena let her eyes roam over the large residence, taking in its neat appearance, the brick and stone foundation, the bay windows, and the black door adorned with a set of brass numbers. She reached into her jacket and pulled out her cell phone. Flipping it open she dialed a series of numbers and listened for an answer at the other end. After several rings a sleepy voice answered.

"Hello?"

"Wizard, I need you to look up something up for me." The Wizard was the nickname for the computer wiz that Xena used from time to time. He was a genius for obtaining all types of information.

"Xena! Good morning to you, too," he said in mock sarcasm. "What 'ya need?"

"A name to go with an address." She paused and heard his fingers tapping across a keyboard. "3362 North Capital Street. Got it?"

"Got it. Give me a minute and I’ll look it up. Searching... searching...bingo. Sharon Anne McLane. Need more?"

"Yeah, what else can you get on her?"

"Hmm...hold on... I’ve got to connect to the database. Okay, Sharon McLane, she’s a Federal Investigator, FBI. Employed since 1982. Single. Financial status..."

"That’s good, Wizard, thanks." Xena interrupted.

Xena flipped the cell phone shut, abruptly disconnecting the call. She could imagine the raised eyebrows at the other end.

"Hades!" She muttered under her breath.

Suddenly her body shook and she winced as waves of heat seared through her. She needed to get home soon. She looked around, and realized that she was a long way from home. Cursing under her breath and gritting her teeth she moved away from the huge elm that she leaned against and walked briskly down the street. Her hands were clenched by her side and she swiveled her head from one side to the other, scanning the area. She stopped when she glimpsed a form walking alone down one of the side streets. She chose to follow the form and quickly closed the distance between them. Her blood roared in her ears when she caught the scent of this new prey. She had no choice, she had to have him. She couldn't ignore the burning need, the hunger. With a long leap she flipped over him and landed silently before him. Startled, he froze in his tracks and his eyes widened at the beautiful woman standing a mere hairs breadth from him. He unconsciously licked his lips and Xena’s lips curved into a sensual smile.

"Hello." He said hesitantly.

Xena gazed at him with hooded eyes and snaked her arms around his neck. She pulled him against her body and kissed him roughly. Her tongue swirled around inside his mouth and her blood boiled when he moaned in response. She felt his bulging stiffness press against her and she smiled. She backed him against the rough brick wall. His hands roamed freely across her body, caressing and squeezing. With a feral growl Xena broke the kiss and dove for the exposed flesh at his neck. The young man gasped and his eyes widened in terror when he realized that his skin had been pierced and his life blood was being sucked away. Xena’s transformation was rapid and took no more than a few minutes. Now satiated, she lifted her head and moaned in ecstasy. Her white fangs were stained pink with a mixture of blood and saliva and her long fingernails had dug into the young man’s face and scalp. Breathing deeply she pulled away and let his body fall to the ground.

"You'll be all right. You won't remember a thing." She whispered.

Xena didn't spare him a second glance as she turned and walked away.

 

Chapter 2

Xena walked down the deserted street and her thoughts went into the past.

Many years before, Xena and her companion, Gabrielle, fought the wine god, Bacchus. Bacchus captured and decapitated Orpheus and took his harp. The harp was the instrument that tamed the Bacchae and confined them to the Bacchae forest. Without Orpheus to play the music, the Bacchae where free to leave the forests and capture innocent girls from neighboring villages. A single bite from a Bacchae would turn an innocent girl into a wild soulless creature and her only allegiance was to Bacchus. Once bitten she was lured into his lair to drink his blood. If she did this, there was no turning back, she became a Bacchae forever. A Bacchae woman could take many forms, and were driven with an unquenchable thirst for blood.

Along with Joxer and Orpheus, Xena and Gabrielle entered a village in search of Orpheus's harp hoping that it would be found and that the lilting tunes would send the Bacchae back into the forest where they belonged. When Xena was away looking for the harp, Gabrielle stayed behind and saw a girl being dragged away by two women and trailed behind to investigate the situation. She followed them into a bar full of partygoers celebrating the night of Bacchus and the music encouraged her to dance. As she was dancing, two women joined her. They danced together for quite some time. Joxer went in search of Gabrielle and found her but not before her dancing partners had already bitten her. The very next day, Gabrielle turned into a Bacchae and Xena chased her wild and crazy friend to Bacchus's lair but the Bacchae women outnumbered her.

The drums beat incessantly, the flames from the bonfire seared the bronze skin of the warrior and billowing capes filled her vision. The women that danced before her were hauntingly beautiful, skin as white as alabaster, eyes shimmering like gold, and white fangs gleamed. Their long fingernails caressed her skin, raked along her broad shoulders and Xena shivered. When the women surrounded the warrior, her breathing quickened, but her sword was poised, ready to kill if need be.

Beyond the group of women, she heard a low feral growl followed a snarl and the women immediately parted, opening a narrow path down the middle. A form glided towards her, but she couldn't see who it was as it was hidden in shadow. As the form came closer she caught a glimpse of the familiar golden hair, ample breasts and firm abdomen. Gabrielle stood before her, staring boldly into her eyes and those hands, oh, those hands, what they did to her. The warrior's body shuddered when her companion's long nails brushed along her arms, across her shoulders, over her breastplate and down to her thighs. Xena looked down at her partner, now a Bacchae, without fear and without shame. Gabrielle opened her mouth and her gaze traveled from the gleaming while fangs to eyes like golden orbs. Xena's long dark tresses where lifted to the side and she gasped, her heart pounded painfully against her chest. Gabrielle snarled at the Bacchae hovering nearby who then turned and fled leaving Xena alone with the one who won her heart and the only one she would ever surrender to.

Gabrielle stepped closer to Xena and gazed down at the blue vein that pulsated beneath the warrior's skin at the nape of her neck. She wrapped her hand around the warrior's face, the points of her long black nails pressing into tender flesh, and stared into cool liquid blue eyes. The eyes flickered momentarily with uncertainty when she lowered her head. An exotic sensation ran through the small woman's body when her teeth pierced the skin. Blood flowed freely into her mouth and she drank it greedily. Her legs tensed, and her body thrust up against the warriors back in ecstasy. Xena's head snapped back and she cried out Gabrielle’s name before diving towards Bacchus and driving a dyrad bone into his heart.

She thought that she had killed him.

But he wasn't dead. The dyrad bone scattered him throughout the universe, but he was still alive. After all, he was a God and Xena didn't have the power to kill gods then.

Xena closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cool surface of the door to her townhouse. When the past faded away, she turned the key in the lock and stepped inside.

 

Chapter 3

"Hey Doc! We got another one for ya!" A masculine voice bellowed from one of the two uniformed police officers behind a morgue attendant rolling in a gurney. The attendant banged the rolling tray against the sliding doors to the entrance of the city morgue.

A small petite woman looked up from her cup of coffee and winced when the gurney scraped along the automatic doors as they swung open. She set her cup down on the counter and walked towards the gurney, while the doctor she had been speaking to snatched a clipboard from a rack on the wall along the way.

"Hi, Charlie. What have you got?" The doctor asked when the gurney came to a stop.

"Another weird one. Two holes in his neck. No blood. Yadda, yadda, yadda." Charlie answered. He placed his hands on his hips, adjusting his gun belt and then laughed. His doe brown eyes winked at her, and he ran a hand over his hair, cut military style. His partner, Andy, swallowing visibly, stared down wide-eyed at the body bag.

"Hey, Andy, chill man. It’s just a dead body." Charlie admonished his younger partner. I hear today's your birthday." He paused and looked at the small woman standing next to the doctor. "Still not telling, huh?"

The woman glanced up and gave him a quiet smile.

"No? Well, I've known you for what? A year now, and you don't look a day older."

"Thanks." She said at the compliment. Her eyes darted away from him as if she were hiding something.

The body in the bag twitched. Andy jumped back and plastered himself against the tile wall. His body shook, his eyes were wide with fright, and his teeth chattered.

"Whoa, easy, Andy. Just a post-mortem response. Nothing to worry about. The guy's dead." Charlie said soothingly. He approached his partner slowly and berated himself for teasing him.

"Um, Charlie, why don’t you and Andy go on back to duty. I have all the paperwork here, okay?" The doctor said, shaking her head.

"Yeah. Come on Andy, let’s get back to work." Charlie patted a recovering Andy on the back.

Gabrielle watched the two police officers exit through the automatic doors and leave in their patrol car before she turned her attention back to the black body bag. Narrowing her eyes, she followed the doctor as she pushed the gurney into one of the available pathology rooms. Once inside the medical examiner shut the door and turned on the lights. She glanced at the blonde standing beside her before unzipping the bag.

"Are you sure you want to stay for this?" She asked as she slipped on a pair of latex gloves.

"Yeah. Selina, I really need to know everything about these cases." Gabrielle said.

"Well, not much to tell." She replied and unzipped the bag.

Gabrielle's breath caught when she saw the two tiny holes in the skin at the jugular vein. Her body shuddered when a surge of heat went through her and she gritted her teeth against the feeling.

Breathing hard, she glanced up at the clock on the wall and saw that it was almost time for her to go home. It was one in the morning and she was hungry, very hungry.

"Gabrielle, are you all right?" Selina asked, concern in her voice.

"Um, yeah. I just realized that I hadn't eaten today." Gabrielle placed a hand to her head.

"I read your book. Good job." Selina said before turning back to the body.

"Thanks." Gabrielle said quietly.

"By the way, I meant to tell you…remember the two bodies that were brought in a few days ago?"

"Yes." Gabrielle placed her hands on the cold steel of the table and leaned forward.

"Well, they're not here." Selina paused in her probing.

"What?" Gabrielle's knuckles turned white from gripping the table so hard.

"They're not here." She repeated.

"Well, what happened to them?" Gabrielle's breathing quickened.

"I don't know." Selina replied.

"You mean they just got up and walked out?" Gabrielle said with disbelief in her voice and the doctor merely shrugged.

"You know what else is strange?" Selina said as her fingers slipped between blue lips and opened the mouth.

"What?" The blonde asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

"The next morning I had hospital staff in here with the same bite marks." She pulled out a light from her lab coat pocket and shined it into the dark cavity.

"Oh, no." Gabrielle whispered.

"Oh, yes." She said, pulling out her fingers and glancing at Gabrielle.

"You know what else?" She continued and turned off the light.

"What?" Gabrielle stared down at the body, its skin ghostly pale in death.

"I get the feeling that you know more than you're letting on." Selina put the light back in her pocket and zipped up the bag.

She wheeled the gurney into the refrigerator, closed the door and slid her clipboard into the rack on the wall. She removed her gloves, shoved them into the trash and they stared at one another in silence.

"Selina, I'm not sure." Gabrielle raised a hand to her temple.

"All right." Selina nodded in understanding. "Well, that's all for tonight. I'll have more for you tomorrow after I've examined my notes."

Regretfully, Gabrielle turned, left the room and walked down the silent hall to the elevators. The bell dinged shortly after she pressed the call button and the doors slid open. She stepped into the steel cab and pressed the button on the panel for the garage level and the doors slid shut. The searing heat swept through her again and she slumped against the cool metal of the elevator wall, her hands clenched the steel handholds until it passed. When the doors slid open she bolted out of the elevator and ran to her car. With shaking hands, she pulled her keys out of her purse, opened the trunk and dumped her briefcase into it. She lifted the lid of a small black refrigerator nestled in a nook of the trunk and pulled out a plastic thermos. She wrenched off the lid in her haste and drank the contents greedily.

She tilted her head back and exhaled in relief, a slight growl vibrating in her throat. A pair of canines gleamed in the florescent light. Swallowing and licking her lips, she tossed the thermos back into the refrigerator and shut the lid. Placing her palms on the hood of the car she slammed it closed and pulled her keys from the lock. She opened her car door and slid into the leather seat. She looked into the rear mirror and spied a drop of red liquid at the side of her mouth. A pink tongue darted out and licked it clean. She stared at herself for a moment in the mirror and clenched her jaw against what she saw there. A shadow of sadness passed over her misty green eyes.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and relaxed. She turned the key in the ignition and the motor roared to life. She pressed a button on the dashboard and the top of the car lifted up and began to fold itself backwards and down. Once the top was down she shifted the car into reverse, backed out of the parking space and roared out of the underground garage. She cruised down the streets and glanced at her image in the darkened store windows. She sat in her silver mercedes convertible, her short blond hair streaking behind her in the wind. She came to a stop at a light and felt eyes upon her from the people on the sidewalks and from the bars and nightclubs scattered along the route.

The night life was still in full swing since many of the local bars and night clubs remained open until the early morning hours. Laughter reached her sensitive ears and she turned towards the sound. Two women were walking unsteadily arm in arm and when they spotted her, they waved. She raised a blond brow and her lip curled into a smile. The smile disappeared however, when she thought about the woman she loved.

 

Chapter 4

Fire spurted from a large cavity in the earth and the laughter of Bacchus boomed around them. The fiery chasm grew and they ran.

"Gabrielle!" Xena shouted in warning.

"Xena!" Gabrielle ran to her partner, arm outstretched.

Xena reached for her and Gabrielle clasped her hand tightly, They ran as fast as they could but they couldn't outrun the rapidly growing chasm. Eventually it consumed them and they tumbled into the seemingly bottomless pit, their arms and legs flailing aimlessly in the empty air. Red hot flames licked at them, but they felt no pain. They called out to one another but then everything went dark.

She remembered drifting in darkness, seeing a myriad of colors flashing past her, and hearing distorted sounds. She also remembered falling from the sky and watching the ground exploding up towards her before losing consciousness. When she awoke she was half submerged in water and tall grass tickled her face. Before she could move, something grabbed a hold of her hair, pinning her head in place. She gasped, a warm body lay on top of her and a long nail lazily caressed her cheek and then she was bitten. Another hand stroked the exposed flesh along her arms, shoulders and legs. For a few minutes she couldn't move and then abruptly she was released. She turned her head and the form of a gray wolf bounded away into the thick brush. She brought her hand to her neck and it came away with blood.

"No." She whispered and rubbed the sticky liquid between her fingers.

"No." She whispered again.

She clapped her hands to her ears when there was an ear piercing sound above her. She flipped over onto her back and gasped. She stared at a jet gliding across the sky, its silver wings sparkling in the sunlight. She scrambled under a stand of brush at the sound of the sonic boom that followed.

Crouching, she placed her hands on her sias, the familiar feel of the cool metal soothed her. She looked around and her eyes narrowed when she saw more airplanes lined up on a runway. Her eyes traveled up to the air control tower and then back down to the ground where people were moving around. She shifted her gaze away from the airport, searching for a something familiar.

"Xena!" She called out, but there was no answer.

She stood up and walked across the marshy land away from the airport. Her leather boots sloshed through the knee deep warm water and small fish darted out of her way. The sky was clear, marred by only a few high clouds. The air smelled slightly sweet, indicating that there was a swamp nearby, and was very humid.

"Xena!" She called out, and her call was met with a stony stare from a white crane.

She saw a road in the distance and in the background was a marble structure that looked like a domed temple. As she got closer she saw cars speeding back and forth on the street and it was very noisy. She coughed and wrinkled her nose at the fumes from the exhaust.

She stood beside the road watching the automobiles speed past and curious faces peered out at her. When there was what looked like a gap in the traffic, she ran. There were sounds of screeching wheels, blaring horns and the smell of burning rubber. She skidded to a stop, leapt onto the hood of a car, ran down its length, barely keeping her balance on the slick surface and hopped back down onto the road. She started to move forward, but a car was fast approaching her. She jumped into the air, somersaulting over the automobile and the driver slammed on the brakes. The automobile skidded, crashed into the concrete barrier, and came to an abrupt halt. Gabrielle landed on the back windshield, her feet twisting under her, and she fell onto the trunk of the car. She rolled off the car and onto the road. Her head hit the hard surface and then everything went black.

 

Chapter 5

Bright light stung her eyes and she woke, lying in a bed with a woman in white standing next to her. She reached up and discovered a bandage over the wounds on her neck.

"Ow!" Gabrielle grunted and pushed herself up. She fumbled with the constricting strap on her arm. She blinked away the dizziness that washed over her.

"Easy now." The woman said and placed an gentle hand on her shoulder, pushing her back into the bed.

"You're going to be fine. I was only taking your blood pressure." This time she patted her shoulder before turning and disappearing behind a curtain.

The curtain swished to the side and a thin man in a blue suit approached.

"I'm Detective Gates." He said and flashed a silver shield. Gabrielle peered at it and then shifted her gaze back to his face.

"What's your name?" He asked but was rudely interrupted when the curtain was pulled aside and another man stepped in. He wore a slightly rumpled suit and he stumbled clumsily over his own feet.

"Don't say anything!" he shouted and stepped between Gabrielle and the detective.

"Gabe, why are you following me around today?"

"I'm not following you. I heard about this on the radio."

"I really need to ask her some questions."

"My client is tired. You can speak to her later."

"Your client! She hasn't even spoken to you yet, how can she be your client?"

"She's my client!" He turned around and mouthed the word 'yes' and nodded to Gabrielle.

"Get out of my way!" The detective shoved the young attorney out of his way.

"Is this guy your attorney?" He pointed at the young man.

Gabrielle shifted her gaze from one man to the other, clearly confused, but she decided that she liked the young attorney.

"Yes." She said.

"Aw, geez. I do not believe this!" The detective bellowed, balled his hands into a fist and turned to glare at the young man who withered slightly under the heat.

"You-…" He raised his finger and shook it in the attorney's face. When words failed him he turned to Gabrielle.

"We'll talk later." He said and stormed off.

The young lawyer rubbed the back of his neck before shifting his attention back to his newly aquired client. Gabrielle folded her arms and looked at him expectantly. He quickly stepped forward to her bedside and stuck out his hand. Gabrielle stared at it for a minute before grasping it. She startled him when instead of the expected handshake, her hand grasped him around the forearm. His brow crinkled, and he shot her a confused look.

"Is something wrong?" Gabrielle asked, noting his discomfiture.

"Ah, well, no, just that I'm used to people clasping my hand." He looked at her closely before letting his gaze travel to the large plastic bag on the chair and then walked over to it.

Reaching in he pulled out the first object, a suede halter top adorned with braided leather and beads. Holding the item awkwardly with his fingers, he turned to her.

"I gather this would be your-…"

"Top." Gabrielle answered for him with an arched eyebrow.

Clearing his throat, he reached back into the bag and brought out the second object. He held it up.

"And this would be-…"

"My skirt." Gabrielle lifted both eyebrows.

He folded the items over the back of the chair.

"And boots." He removed her leather boots from the bag and examined them.

"What are these?" He asked fingering the metal weapons.

"My sias."

"Oh, so you're a kung fu fighter?"

"A kung fu-…" Gabrielle's brows furrowed in confusion. "Um, no. I'm an amazon."

"Ah! That would explain everything." He set the boots on the floor, pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down. "So, you're not from around here then?"

"I don't think so." Gabrielle chuckled.

"You don’t' think so." Now it was his turn to look confused. "Do you have any identification on you…drivers license, birth certificate?" he asked but Gabrielle shook her head.

"Well, that'll make it hard for them to send you back."

"But, I want to go back."

"Back where?"

"Where I came from." Gabrielle answered and the young attorney squeezed his face with his hands in frustration.

"And where is that?" he asked from behind his fingers.

"I don't know." She answered and he laughed.

"Either I'm going nuts, or you are the most perplexing woman I have ever met!"

"Gabe, right?" At his affirmative nod she continued, "where am I?"

"What?" His face was incredulous and he sat back in the chair.

"Where am I?' she repeated.

"You don't-…" he stuttered. "Okay, here."

He set his briefcase on the empty table, opened it and pulled out a newspaper. He turned it around and tossed it on her lap. She picked it up and glanced at the pictures and the headlines. It was the date at the top that commanded her attention. She had been shot forward in time by two-thousand years. Her face paled and she felt very faint. Her hands tightened on the paper and the young attorney glanced at her in alarm.

"Hey! Are you all right?"

Gabrielle forced herself to calm down and looked up into his face.

"I'm okay." She whispered.

A persistent ringing came from inside his jacket. He reached in and pulled out a cell phone. Flipping the top he raised it to his ear while Gabrielle looked on curiously.

"Yeah?" A pause.

"Right. Be there in an hour." Another pause.

"I said, I'll be there in an hour!" he snapped.

"Where do you live?" He asked and then slapped his head. "Oh, I forgot, you don't know, right?"

Gabrielle flashed him a sardonic grin.

"All right. How about you stay with me for a while?" Gabrielle looked at him sideways.

"You'll have your own room and I'm harmless. Scouts honor." He smiled and crossed his heart with a finger. Gabrielle couldn't help but smile. "Besides, there's a story in here somewhere and I like a good mystery." He got up and paused at the door. "I've never met an amazon before either. I'll be right back."

Gabrielle watched the curtain drift shut and then turned her attention to the newspaper in her lap. She saw a strange article about a woman who was found the day before. Her body was drained of blood. A chill climbed up her spine and she shivered.

 

Chapter 6

She was just getting out of bed when the young attorney returned.

"Whoa!" Abruptly he turned his back when he saw her nakedness from the back of the gown. Gabrielle straightened and turned.

"Gabe."

"Huh?' he answered, not sure if it was safe to turn around

"Gabe." When he turned around, she continued, "my clothes."

"You're going to wear those-…Um, I think you might want to wear something else." Gabrielle looked at him quizzically.

"I'll be right back." Gabrielle sat down on the bed and he spun around at the door.

"You never mentioned your name."

"You never asked." She paused and then said, "Gabrielle." He nodded and then disappeared.

She was staring out the window when he returned. He walked to her bed and dropped a shopping bag.

"Well, here you go. Lucky for us there's a store nearby." He gestured and Gabrielle walked to the mussed up bed.

She pulled out the items and appraised them with an approving eye. A pair of denim pants, a denim shirt, belt and sandals. He was smiling at her like a puppy and she bit her lip to keep from laughing. He reminded her of Joxer, an old friend. She twirled her finger.

"Turn." She said.

"Oh, right."

When he turned she discarded the hospital gown and donned her new clothes. She walked past him to a mirror and combed her hair.

"Did you see the article in the paper about the woman they found yesterday?"

"Um, no." He picked up the paper and read the article.

"I need to know more about what happened to her."

"Well, for starters, she would be at the morgue. We could try there."

"Where's that?"

"It's right across the street. I can ask my friend, Kay, she's an investigator." He pulled out his cell phone and tones rang softly as his fingers punched the key pad. He brought the phone to his ear and waited.

"Kay? Kay, pick up." A pause and then he pulled the phone from his ear as a string of explicatives exploded from it and Gabrielle hid a smile when he winced. When it quieted down his brought the phone back to his ear.

"Kay, honey-…" he started, but was interrupted.

"Sweets-…" he began again. Finally he was able to speak.

"I'm calling because a have someone here who needs information. No, it's not a he, it's a she." He rolled his eyes. "Yes, you can meet her." A pause. "On a woman from the article yesterday…at the morgue…okay…meet you there." He snapped the phone shut and slid it back inside his jacket.

"Your girlfriend?" Gabrielle inquired with a smile.

"Nah. Just a friend. She's not the least bit interested in me, believe me." He stood back and glanced at Gabrielle from head to toe.

"Ready to check out?"

"Uh, I guess so."

He grabbed her by the arm when she started for the curtain.

"They have to wheel you out." He explained and Gabrielle looked at him like he'd just lost his mind.

"What!" She exclaimed.

"Wait here, okay. Just wait here." He pushed her back and sat her down on the bed.

A few minutes later a doctor and a hospital orderly with a wheelchair came in and she looked at the chair dubiously. The doctor pulled a chart from a rack at her bed.

"How do you feel?" He asked.

"Fine." She answered and he walked up to her. He tilted her head back and shined a light into her eyes.

"Okay, you can go home. You suffered a mild concussion and there were punctures in your neck." Gabe looked at her sharply. The doctor scribbled on a pad of paper. "Take this for the pain." He ripped the sheet from the pad and handed it to her. The writing was totally foreign to her and she looked over at Gabe inquiringly.

After the doctor left, Gabe came to her side and escorted her to the wheelchair. She sat down and he lifted her legs into the stirrups. She was wheeled out of the emergency room, and out a set of automatic doors. Gabe helped her stand up and together they walked down the street to a crosswalk. Gabrielle's head swiveled back and forth as cars whizzed by. The lights changed and automobiles came to a stop. Gabe propelled her forward and they crossed the street and into the morgue.

Gabrielle's breath caught at the sight of a tall raven haired woman leaning nonchalantly against the wall, her back to them.

"Kay!" Gabe announced and she turned.

"Hey." She replied and her gaze shifted from his face to Gabrielle and their gazes locked. Mischievous blue eyes twinkled down at her and Gabrielle smiled.

"Um, Kay, this is Gabrielle. Gabrielle, Kay." He introduced them. The woman stuck out her arm and took Gabrielle's hand in a firm and friendly clasp.

She stared up at blue eyes and her heart skipped a beat. Kay had an angular face, framed by shoulder length raven hair pulled back into a pony tail. She wore jeans with a t-shirt under a black leather jacket.

"Nice to meet you, Gabrielle."

"Likewise."

"I just came from downstairs."

"What's downstairs?"

"The real morgue." Before she could continue, a man dressed in a blue gown and a mask around his neck stopped next to her.

"Kay, there's more." Kay turned to him and Gabrielle stared at his clothes. He took Kay by the arm and pulled her into a shadowed alcove near the water fountain. He bent and whispered into her ear. He straightened and she looked at him in disbelief before he nodded and walked away. Slowly Kay approached them.

"What?" Gabe prompted.

"She had two small punctures in her neck."

"Ha. You can't be serious." Gabe said and glanced at Gabrielle and Kay. Kay looked directly at Gabrielle and said. "Quite serious."

 

Chapter 7

"What do you mean, she doesn't know where she is? And what kind of clothes are these?" Kay exclaimed holding the plastic bag up with a finger.

"Kay, why don't you ask her yourself."

"Oh, I will. What has she told you about her neck?"

"Shh!" Gabe admonished.

They were at Gabe's sprawling condominium that overlooked the Capital and the mall nearby. Gabe and Kay were in his kitchen talking heatedly while Gabrielle went to the bathroom. Kay shoved the coffee pot back into the hot plate and set her mug down loudly.

"Gabe, she's a complete stranger!" She shook her head in exasperation. "You don't pick up strangers! Didn't your mother teach you that?"

"Look, Kay, there's something about her. She seems completely honest and trustworthy."

"If there's one thing I've learned in this life, is that you trust no one." Kay almost growled.

"You trust me." Gabe said softly.

"Gabe!"

"All right! I know what you're trying to say. I don't know why you don't just come out and say it." He extended his arms in a helpless gesture and Kay rolled her eyes.

"Gabe, I do care about you."

"But, like a brother."

"That's right." Her face softened when his face fell. She walked up to him and gave him a supportive hug which made him smile.

She pulled back and looked into his eyes.

"You're right." She said and he looked at her inquiringly. "There is something about her. She's honest because I don't sense that she's lying about anything. But this is all very strange."

"You like her, don't you." Gabe said and his smile widened.

"I guess so. But, like I said, I don't know her and until we get some answers, I want you to be careful, okay?" She said and he nodded.

Gabrielle heard the entire conversation from her position on the commode. She dropped her head in her hands. Taking a deep breath she finished her business and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was pale and drawn and there were deep shadows under her eyes. When she stared at the green orbs she could see the sadness there.

She brought her hand up and peeled back the bandage at her neck. There were two small punctures in the skin and she swallowed nervously. She put the bandage back in place and bit her lip. A surge of hot fire swept through her and she moaned. When it passed she shook her head. She knew what it was, it was a familiar hunger, and she knew that she needed to feed it soon.

Gabrielle sighed and fiddled with the faucet handles until water poured out. She splashed the cool liquid onto her face and then dried it with a soft towel. She paused at the door and then stepped out of the bathroom.

Kay picked up her coffee mug and followed Gabe from the kitchen when Gabrielle walked into the living room.

"Would you like something to drink? Coffee? Tea?" Gabe asked.

"Um, tea would be nice." Gabrielle answered and gritted her teeth against the desire for what she really needed, and he walked back into the kitchen. Kay turned her attention to the small blonde and waved her to the couch where they both sat down.

"So, Gabe tells me that you're suffering from amnesia?"

"Well-…" Gabrielle began but stopped.

"All right. Do you remember anything about yourself? What do you do?"

Gabrielle thought for a minute and decided to reveal as little as possible.

"Well, I write."

"Honey, writing isn't going to get you money. At least not right away. You need a job and you need money." She paused and shifted her gaze to her friend.

"Okay. Gabe, your turn. Any ideas, brains?"

"Yeah. I'll try to get some money from her lawsuit. If she wants to write, I don't see why not."

Kay turned to Gabrielle. "See why I like him. He puts things together in one neat little package. Well, in this case, one big one."

"You know, I don't know anything about you, but Gabe here trusts you. Who are you?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Now how did I know you were going to say something like that?"

"Because I think you know where I'm coming from. And deep down, you know that I don't really belong here."

There was a long moment of silence. Sad green eyes stared into clear blue ones. Gabrielle blinked and broke the silence.

"Look, I need go out for some fresh air. I'm really kind of-…"

"I’ll go with you, wouldn't want you to get lost." Kay offered.

"No." Gabrielle said more sharply than she intended. "I'll be fine. I really need to be alone, okay?"

"Fine." Kay said and watched the blonde's retreating back as she went out the door.

 

Chapter 8

Xena walked briskly down a sidewalk in Georgetown, a place just outside the nation's capital, well known for its diverse past, and quaint shops along the historic canal. She strode past darkened store fronts, with only the streetlights to illuminate her way. She turned a corner and walked to a partially empty lot. Pulling a set of keys from her pocket she walked to a black motorcycle and unlocked a box on the side. She retrieved her helmet and placed it on her head, strapping it firmly, and then snapped the dark visor down over her face. She straddled the dark machine, gripped the handlebars and pulled it upright. She zipped up her black leather jacket, pushed the kickstand back with the heel of her boot and inserted the key into the ignition. Turning the key and giving it some gas the cycle roared to life and she rode out of the lot.

With the bike rumbling smoothly underneath and the hum of the engine in her ears, she turned at a blinking traffic light and rode down into an underground tunnel. She emerged at the other end and continued on down the highway. She turned into a rural street and then into a gravel driveway. She stopped at a brick colonial townhouse on a corner. She stepped off the bike, her black leather boots crunching on loose gravel and removed her helmet. She walked up to a side door, punched in a security code on a keypad and entered the house. She picked up the mail that lay scattered in a heap on the floor and leafed through it. Setting the mail and helmet on a leather sofa she strode up the stairs and into a loft. Wearily she undressed, walked into the bathroom and stepped into the shower. She closed her eyes and let the warm water cascade over her lean body. Relaxed somewhat, she turned off the water, dried herself off and slid in between the sheets on her bed and drifted to a fitful sleep and dreamed.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

Xena tossed and turned in her dream, remembering every vivid detail.

Fire. Heat. Oppressive darkness. The sound of evil laughter. Bright florescent colors swirled around her and there were strange gurgling sounds. She reached out to Gabrielle but darkness descended upon her. She woke to the feel of soft wet grass against her cheek, but before she could open her eyes something jumped on her back. She felt four soft pads that belonged to an animal on exposed skin. When she tried to turn over, sharp teeth sunk into her neck. The pads of the animal were replaced by human flesh. Long nails trailed down her arms and seized her wrists, holding her in place. She could feel the warmth from the naked body on top of her and the sting of the teeth in her flesh. She gasped and when she finally freed herself to wrestle the beast from her, it was gone. She touched the bite at her neck and her hand came away with blood. The sound of evil laughter rung faintly in her ears.

"Bacchae." Xena clenched her teeth and her eyes narrowed in anger.

Wearily she pushed herself up to her knees and when she lifted her head, a huge stone monument rose up before her. Lights at the very top winked on and off. She rose unsteadily to her feet and took in her surroundings. She seemed to be in a large garden of some sort, framed by gravel walkways and sweet smelling trees. The sky was turning a dark amber from the setting sun. She saw automobiles traveling up and down the street in front of her and she stared at them for a minute.

"Gabrielle!" She shouted, but it went unanswered. She looked down at her other hand and unfurled it. In it was Gabrielle's amazon necklace.

"Gabrielle!" She turned in a circle, searching for her soul mate.

She stumbled to one of the walkways near a cluster of sweet smelling trees and collapsed.

When she woke, a pair of gray eyes in a beautiful face came into focus.

"Hi." The woman said and Xena struggled to stand up.

"Here, let me help." She draped Xena's arm around her shoulders. Regaining her balance, Xena leaned against the tree and closed her eyes.

"Are you all right?" The woman asked.

"I'm fine."

"Look, I live just over there. Why don't you come with me, I wouldn’t want to leave you here by yourself."

"I can take care of myself."

"Maybe, but you don't look so good. Please, I would feel much better if you stayed with me until you feel better. Even for just a few hours."

"All right."

The woman escorted Xena to her townhouse a mere block away. When they walked inside, she took Xena up to her bedroom, lowered her onto the bed, pulled a blanket from the closet and covered the sleeping warrior.

 

Chapter 10

Xena woke to the bright rays of sunlight streaming in from the window. She swung her legs over the bed and immediately regretted making the sudden move. Her head throbbed and she felt dizzy. She swallowed and looked around. Her surroundings were alien, not a thing looked familiar. She got up, walked up to the railing, and looked down. A woman was sleeping on a leather couch.

Xena almost jumped when the woman's eyes snapped open.

"Ah, you're awake." She covered a yawn with the back of her hand and stood up.

"Come, I'll make us something to eat." She waved Xena down and walked into the kitchen.

"Coffee or Tea?"

"Tea."

The woman set a kettle of water on the stove and turned a knob. She walked to the refrigerator, pulled out eggs, milk and cheese. She set a skillet on the burner and proceeded to make breakfast while Xena looked on. When all the items were in the skillet she poured Xena a cup of tea and turned to appraise Xena from head to toe.

"Are you an actress?" She asked and handed Xena the cup and saucer.

"Pardon?" Xena looked at the saucer awkwardly as she brought the cup to her lips.

"Your costume. Were you on your way to the theater?" She asked again.

"No."

"Well, no matter. I'm Valerie, welcome to my home." She raised her brows.

"Name's Xena."

"Xena. Hmm. Interesting name." She pursed her lips. "Sounds almost warrior-like." She continued and Xena raised a brow in amusement.

Valerie slid the food on a plate and pushed it in Xena's direction. She opened a drawer, selected eating utensils and set them down. Xena's stomach grumbled.

After eating breakfast Xena wandered around the living room while Valerie washed the dishes. Xena spied a leather bound volume in a familiar language and pulled it from a shelf in the wall. She was reading the manuscript when Valerie spoke from behind.

"The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Circa 1689. Written in ancient Greek."

Xena looked up from the book and stared straight ahead.

"Go ahead, read it." Valerie whispered into her ear and Xena glanced back down at the book.

"…and so, the triumvirate took it upon themselves to depose the man they called Caesar…"

"Ah. So you can read the ancient language. A rare skill."

She walked in front of Xena and gently took the text from her hands and placed it back on the shelf.

"That is a very rare volume and I have a buyer for it." At Xena's quizzical look she continued, "I buy and sell antiques and other rare treasures, such as that one."

"I could use someone like you. My Greek isn't that good." She glanced back at the books.

"Something tells me you know more than just Greek." She shifted her gaze to the tall and silent raven haired woman.

"You're not much for words are you?" Valerie said.

"I've been told that once or twice."

"Listen, I'm expecting a visitor soon. Why don't you take a shower. I've put some clothes on the sink for you to wear, for now." She pointed in the direction of the bathroom and Xena walked up the stairs to the loft.

It took her a while to figure out how to turn on the water and once she did she undressed and stepped in. The soap smelled fresh and she lathered herself liberally, scrubbing away the dirt from her skin and hair.

When she turned the shower off, she heard raised voices down below. Quickly, she toweled off, donned a pair of skin tight jeans and a long sleeved white shirt. She opened the bathroom door and stepped into the bedroom. She crept across the carpeted floor in her bare feet and peered over the railing.

"That is my price, Theo. Take it or leave it."

"Twenty-five thousand dollars? Fifteen."

"No! I worked hard getting that item. My price is firm."

"Fifteen is what we agreed on, Valerie!" The man stepped forward until they were nose to nose.

"Is there a problem here?" Xena spoke. Startled, the man turned and looked up at the tall raven haired beauty and his eyes followed her as she walked down the stairs and stood next to Valerie.

"No." He said flatly and set the briefcase on the table. Valerie smiled sweetly and sprung the case open. Inside were several rows of neatly bound and stacked banknotes. Xena raised a dark brow.

"Why thank you, Theo. I look forward to doing business with you again." She said and he grunted.

"Who's the watchdog?" he asked gruffly.

"This is Xena." Valerie glanced at Xena and placed a hand on her arm. "A friend."

"Hmmph." He grunted again and left. Xena turned to Valerie and posed a question.

"What exactly is it that you do, Valerie?"

"I do exactly what I said I do." She replied with a straight face and changed the subject. "Here, let's take a look at that wound on your neck." She reached up and Xena grasped her hand.

"Leave it."

"Xena, it'll get infected if you don't take care of it."

"I'll take care of it." Valerie threw her hands in the air in surrender.

"Fine. Have it your way. In the bathroom upstairs, there are bandages and ointments in the medicine cabinet." She glanced down at Xena's bare feet. "Oh, and there's a pair of sandals in the closet by the front door."

Xena walked up the steps and into the bathroom. Just as she closed the door, a searing heat surged through her and she grasped the edges of the sink for balance. She gritted her teeth and willed the hunger to the recesses of her mind. She walked back out of the bathroom and down the stairs to the closet.

"Where're you going?" Valerie asked as Xena stepped into a pair of sandals.

"I'm going for a stroll."

"Are you coming back?" Xena lifted her head and their gazes met.

"Yes." Xena turned and left.

 

Chapter 11

The flames burned and licked at her. The heat was suffocating, it seared her lungs. She watched helplessly as a wall of flame suddenly erupted and Gabrielle disappeared. She cried out but the roar of the fire drowned out her anguished plea. She fell to her knees in defeat, her arms stretched towards the edge of the chasm, and her voice continued to cry out Gabrielle’s name over and over again.

Xena twisted and turned in her bed sheets and then with a violent twitch she woke, her body drenched in sweat. Her hair and her nightshirt clung to her damp skin and she took in deep gulps of air. Seizing a pillow from behind her, she flung it against the far wall, the hanging pictures danced and then came to rest slightly askew. Flinging back the covers, she strode into the bathroom to the sink and splashed cold water onto her face. She gazed at her reflection in the mirror and was startled by the ringing of her phone. She let the answering machine pick up the call while she turned on the shower and stepped in.

She finished her shower and walked into the bedroom, wrapping a towel around her head. She shrugged into a white robe and strode over to the window. She looked down at the traffic below and then over to the coliseum, or what was left of it. The once splendid structure was now crumbling and had lost most of is grandeur, but tourists flocked to the site, overwhelmed simply from being in the presence of something that existed thousands of years ago. Xena gave a short laugh.

"If only you knew." Her face clouded. "Rome. I hate Rome." She said bitterly.

Valerie sent Xena to Rome on business, to trade valuable artifacts. This was the third such trip Xena had made over the past year. Traveling from one city to the other and haggling over prices was a piece of cake compared to flying. Her legs were like rubber when she first approached a plane and she was literally sick to her stomach when it took off from the runway. She was miserable on the flight and she growled at the stewardesses and at the other passengers. Everyone gave her a wide berth.

The second flight was easier and she actually enjoyed it when the plane took off down the runway in a burst of speed. The feeling of being trapped inside a metal container thousands of feet from the ground and being dependant on a pair of pilots to command the vessel didn't bother her as much. She felt comfortable among the clouds.

She even engaged in a casual conversation with a passenger on this past flight. The plane was about to take off when a man sat down in the seat next to her. She glanced over and their gazes met. His dark curly hair tumbled down over his shoulders and a goatee framed a lilting smile. His teeth gleamed whitely and his brown eyes sparkled with flecks of gold. He wore a diamond stud in one ear and a simple gold chain around his neck.

"Hello." He said in a rich, timbre voice.

"Hello." She replied and he smiled.

"Going to Rome?" he asked and she nodded.

"My homeland. I've been away too long." He said and Xena's eyebrow rose.

"Where are you from?" he asked.

"Greece."

"Beautiful country. Excellent cuisine." A pause. "My wife lives there." He flashed her a smile.

"Your wife." Xena shook her head in amazement and looked out the window.

"Oh, she doesn't mind."

"Doesn't mind what?" Xena spun her head around and gave him a dark look. "your going on business trips or your indiscretions?"

He laughed, "tell you what, why don't we change the subject?"

"Why don't we." She responded.

"What brings you to Rome?"

"Same as you, business." She replied with a raised brow and he laughed again.

"Have you been to Rome before?" he asked and she glanced at him sideways.

"Oh, yes." She said sardonically. Xena tilted her seat back, turned towards the window and closed her eyes. She slept until the pilot announced that they were approaching their destination. She pulled her seat up and glanced over at the seat next to her. Spread out on the small tray before him were pictures. Xena's eyes narrowed.

"I'm an archeologist. I was part of the team that discovered the catacombs beneath the Sistine Chapel where the prophets of Eli were buried." Xena turned, her attention was captured by this man.

"Really?"

"Yes. Beautiful chapel. It was built for Pope Sixtus IV in the fifteenth century. Michelangelo's works cover the walls, these paintings and frescoes depict the story of the life of Eli." He pointed to several pictures.

His story was interrupted by the sound of a chime, reminding them to buckle in for the landing. The plane landed and they gathered up their belongings. As Xena walked past him, he touched her arm.

"I didn't get your name." He flashed her a brilliant smile.

"Xena." She replied and walked down the aisle and out into the airport terminal. She missed the shocked look on his face.

She stood on the curb hailing a cab when the automatic doors swished open and he came running up to her.

"Wait!" He shouted and Xena turned to face him.

"Did you say 'Xena'?" He asked.

"Yes." She answered and her cab pulled up.

"You know there was once a warrior by that name." He said and reached for the door handle.

"Really?" Xena smiled to herself and he opened the car door.

"A colleague of mine has a set of scrolls written by a bard that we believe was her companion." Xena paused and looked at him with a stricken face.

"Look, here's my card. Call me if you're interested." He handed her a card and his eyes stared down into hers.

Xena took his card, shut the door and gave the driver instructions. The cab drove away and the archeologist's watched the retreating car with a perplexed expression.

Xena stared at the card in her hand, not really seeing the print. Her eyes flooded with tears and she struggled to regain her composure.

 

Chapter 12

Xena looked down at the business card on the table next to her passport and then looked away. She removed her robe and donned a white silk shirt, a dark navy jacket that matched a pair of tailored slacks, and sandals. She adjusted the long gold necklace that hung loosely around her neck. She pressed the button on the answering machine and listened to the message.

"Xena, I have someone interested in middle-eastern merchandise. Call me." A boyish voice intoned.

"Ah, Jack. What would I ever do without you?" Xena murmured.

She picked up the phone and dialed a number.

"Hello?"

"Jack…Xena."

"Xena, check your e-mail then meet me tonight. 7 o’clock. At the warehouse."

"Fine. See you then."

She pressed the nubs on the phone until she got a dial tone and dialed another number. The phone rang once before a voice on the other end answered.

"What?"

"Wizard, got a minute?"

"Hey, Xena, good to hear from you!" She could almost see the smile on his face. "Thanks for the check by the way."

"Just trying to keep my people happy."

"Oh, I'm very happy. When am I going to see you?'

"In your dreams."

Laughter rang out from the other end.

"Oh, you have, and they were very pleasant ones." His voice lowered. "When are you going to stop teasing me?"

A wry smile appeared at the corner of her mouth.

"Don't blame me, you're doing it to yourself. You know it's best that we don't meet."

"Oh, but I have seen you. You are absolutely ravishing!"

"And that's all you'll see." She changed the subject. "Wizard, I need you to send me the middle-eastern inventory."

"Okey dokey."

"Thanks, Wizard." She said putting the phone back on its cradle and shaking her head in amusement.

She finished packing her bags and with a final sweep of the room she stepped out into the hall and closed the door. She took the elevator down to the hotel lobby and stopped at the desk and returned the key. She took a waiting cab to the airport and flew back home.

Upon her arrival at the airport, she was met by two police detectives.

"Are you Xena?" One of the detectives with sandy hair asked.

"Who wants to know?" She replied and darted a look from one to the other.

"I'm Detective Jack Barnes and this is Detective Brian Duncan." She glanced at the badges that they flashed at her.

"Okay, what can I do for you?" Xena set her bags down and crossed her arms.

"It's about Valerie Kinkaid." The sandy haired Detective Barnes continued.

"What about her?" Xena asked with a hint of concern.

"We think she was murdered and we need to ask you a few questions." The second detective with dark hair said.

"What! When did this happen?" Xena exclaimed and brought a hand to her head.

"Last night. Her body was found in the park." The first detective said gently.

"Does she usually jog at night?" Detective Duncan asked.

"Yes." Xena answered automatically.

"What was your relationship with Valerie?"

"We were friends and business partners."

"When you say friends, were you romantically involved?"

"Involved? No. Just friends."

"Why don't you come down to the station so we can ask you more questions and we need you to identify the body." Detective Barnes said.

"All right." Xena replied.

Xena picked up her bags and followed the two detectives to their car. The dark haired detective put her luggage in the trunk and the other opened the car door. She slid into the seat and waited for the car to drive off. So deep in thought was she on the ride to the police station that she didn't even notice that the vehicle had stopped until the car door opened and the rush of cool air jostled her from her thoughts.

She followed the detectives into the old brick building. When they stepped through a set of double doors the world changed. Everything was in chaos. Police officers hustled raucous prisoners to a bench against the wall, tawdry prostitutes called out, and a woman shouted angrily to a man behind a large desk.

Xena shook her head, ignoring the clamor, and followed the detectives to an office at the rear of the station house. When the door closed one of the detectives offered her a seat and she sat down.

"Would you like something to drink?" The sandy haired detective asked before seating himself.

"No, I'm fine." Xena answered.

"Okay. We know that you were overseas when Valerie was attacked. When was the last time you spoke with her?" He asked and lit a cigarette.

"I spoke with her on the phone after I arrived in Rome."

"What did the two of you talk about? Did she seem upset?"

"No. She gave me the information I needed to close a deal and then we hung up."

"Nothing seemed out of the ordinary?" The dark haired detective walked up to stand next to her. His eyes were hard as coal.

"No." She said and stared back.

"Are you aware that you are the sole beneficiary in her will?" He held up a swath of papers and she could tell that he was suspicious of her.

"Yes. We discussed it several weeks ago." She answered truthfully.

"Do you realize that you've inherited a tidy fortune, not to mention a warehouse full of rare and priceless items." He rested his hands on the table and leaned forward.

"Yes."

"Do you know of anyone who had a beef with her or wanted her dead?" The sandy haired detective asked and Xena shifted her gaze from the bad cop to the good cop. She sighed and stood up, tired of the game they were playing with her.

"Detectives, she had a few enemies, this is a very competitive and fierce business. Now, if you don't mind, I'd really like to go home."

"Of course, and we'd like to take a look around the house if you don't mind." Detective Duncan insisted.

"Fine."

Before they drove Xena home, they stopped by the morgue. The dark haired detective opened the car door and when she stepped out their gazes met. His eyes narrowed, and she could tell that he didn't trust her. She smiled at him anyway.

A light drizzle fell from the sky and a slight chill was in the air. While Detective Duncan went on ahead, the sandy haired detective escorted Xena down a hallway. When they passed Detective Duncan, Xena didn't see the small blonde that he was speaking to. They rounded a corner and took the elevator down to the morgue.

"I don't have any more information than that, Detective Duncan." Gabrielle looked up from her notepad. Her eyes caught the back of a tall raven haired woman before she disappeared around a corner.

"Gabrielle?" She shook herself and turned her attention to the detective.

"What?"

"Did she mention the results from the lab?" He inquired impatiently.

"She said sometime tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully." Her eyes shifted back to the hallway.

"Okay, thank you. We'll check back with her then." He paused and then tilted his head. "Why are you so interested in this case? Fodder for another novel?" He said sarcastically and walked down the corridor to the elevators.

Gabrielle frowned and watched his retreating back.

 

 

Chapter 13

Xena closed the door and peeked out of the window through the slit in the curtain. The unmarked police car finally pulled away from the curb and she leaned her head against the door frame. Seeing Valerie's body in the morgue had unsettled her, but what really unnerved her was the puncture wounds in her neck. She had answered all of the detective's questions but they looked at her as if she were withholding information, and she was. Xena shook her head and mumbled to herself as she carried her suitcases up to the loft.

"Oh, yes detectives, I know what those marks are. Let me tell you all about a God called Bacchus. Oh, and let's not forget his minions, the blood thirsty Bacchae." She mimed and then snickered.

"I can just picture the looks on their faces. They'll put me right in the looney bin." She dropped the luggage by the closet and frowned, "But, what in the hell is going on?" She place a hand on her hip and rubbed her temple.

She walked back downstairs and across the room to a set of doors. She pulled on a set of brass handles and the doors opened silently on a set of well oiled tracks. In the center of the office stood a very heavy and a very old oak desk. Priceless tapestries and rare paintings hung on the walls. Alabaster sculptures sat on pedestals and an oak book case took over an entire wall.

She walked to the bookcase and pulled the spine of a book towards her. Soundlessly a portion of the bookcase swiveled inward. Xena stepped through and the shelf swung shut behind her. She walked over to a computer desk, sat down and scanned through her electronic mail. She read her message from Jack.

"Hmm. Middle-eastern tapestries and coinage." She said outloud.

Xena sat back in her chair with a thoughtful look on her face. After a long moment, she got up and walked to a cabinet against the wall. Inside hung her leather battle dress and breastplate. Beside them was her chakram and her sword. Her hand reached out and caressed the leather pleats of her skirt. She touched the cold metal of the chakram briefly before taking it down. Lifting up the back of her jacket she tucked the circular weapon into the waistband of her slacks.

Her eyes shifted to a painting of a petite blonde dressed in full regalia as the Queen of the Amazons. She had the painting done just a few weeks ago by a well known artist and friend of Valerie's. The leather halter top that the woman wore bared a tight midriff and enhanced the swell of her breasts. Under a short leather skirt strong, muscular legs were revealed. She wore soft brown boots on her feet with a pair of sias tucked securely to the sides. A beaded necklace adorned with feathers encircled her slender neck. Her golden hair was braided and decorated with beads. She stood proudly, green eyes shining with wisdom and she held a fighting staff by her side. Xena brought her arm up and touched the woman’s lips with her fingertips, brushing across them lightly.

"I love you Gabrielle." She whispered.

She glanced at her watch, opened the refrigerator under the desk, pulled out a small bottle and set it on a coaster. She stared at the painting while drinking the contents from the bottle. When she sighed a thin film of pink covered a pair canine teeth and she ran her tongue over them. Finished, she placed the bottle among the other empty ones in a basket by the desk.

Turning back to the desk, she turned the computer screen off and walked back to the hidden door. Placing her hand on the wall she depressed a switch, and the door swung open. The doors closed quietly behind her when she stepped back into the office. She checked her watch again, retrieved her helmet and keys, and left the house. Punching in the key code at the door she reactivated the alarm and went to her bike. The bike roared to life and she rode towards the city. On the way to her rondavue she chose a route that would take her by the FBI agent's home on Capital Street. When she arrived, she slowed down, turned off the motorcycle headlight and glanced into one of the bay windows of the home. The agent was standing in her kitchen and talking on the telephone. Rounding a corner, she stopped and scanned the property. A tall wrought iron fence surrounded the house with a secured gate complete with a camera and intercom. Slowly, as to not attract attention, Xena rode away.

Her cycle purred contentedly under her as she rode past the elegant White House, illuminated by brilliant floodlights in the clear night. She turned her head and glanced at the majestic mansion, the home of the President of the United States of America. The water fountain behind the tall black wrought iron fence gushed water high into the air. Row upon row of red tulips ringed the fountain and the grounds were covered with a carpet of thick green grass. Two guards at the main gate, toting semi-automatic weapons, watched her when she rode past.

After navigating her way through the heart of the city, she rode south into a commercial district and pulled up to a warehouse she owned and stopped her motorcycle next to a black car. Turning the key, the engine shut off and she climbed off the bike pulling the helmet from her head. Her hair cascaded down around her shoulders and she cradled the dark helmet in the crook of her arm. Xena glanced into the window of the car as she pulled off her gloves. A woman in the passenger seat was peering into the visor mirror and applying lipstick. Shoving her gloves into the helmet, she climbed a set of stairs, stepped inside the building and found Jack waiting for her.

Jack was a tall, thin man in his late thirties. His wore a goatee and his head was full of dark, thick curly hair. Long tendrils of it fell haphazardly over his forehead and at the nape of his neck it was gathered into a short pony tail. His clear hazel eyes twinkled at her when he smiled.

"Hello, Xena. You look fabulous, as always." he raised a rakish eyebrow as he fell into step with her.

"Flattery does become you, Jack." Xena said sardonically. "Who's the girl?"

He laughed, and ran his fingers across wooden crates as they made their way to her office. The second floor of the warehouse stored valuable antiques and collectibles, many of them were packed into large crates and barrels and were stacked neatly into rows. Below them on the main floor was the delivery and shipping area. The last of the cargo and crane machines were being parked and the sound of the punch-out clock could be heard as workers headed home for the day.

Xena opened her office door and stepped inside. Jack set his briefcase on her desk and opened it. Pulling out several folders he glanced at them briefly before handing them over to her. Xena took them, went around her desk and sat down. She leafed through the files quickly and then smiled as she shut the last one.

"Jack, when Valerie came to see you the night she died, did she mention where she was going, or did anything seem out of the ordinary?"

"Well, I do recall that she said something about meeting a client, I think."

"Did she happen to mention whom?"

"No, wait, she did get a phone call. A 'Mr. B'."

"Mr. B?" Xena repeated and Jack merely shrugged.

She threw the folder on the desk with the others, looked up at Jack and tapped her finger absently on the cover.

"I think I can afford to buy these from you. As long as they're not stolen merchandise." Xena said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest. She heard a faint sound and her eyes shifted to the door of the closet.

"Ow, you know that I know that you don't want that kind of heat. Everything I sell you is bona fide legal." He feigned hurt feelings and Xena smirked at him. "Call me when you have the merchandise."

"You’re a dear, Xena. It’s always a pleasure doing business with you." Jack said and he moved forward to sit down on the corner of her desk.

"We have company." Xena said and rose casually from her chair.

"Huh?" Jack heaved himself from the desk and backed up to the far wall, hastily shoving the folders into his briefcase in the process.

Xena reached behind her and pulled the chakram from the waistband of her slacks. The round metal disk shone wickedly in the light of the muted desk lamp. A shot rang out and she flung the disk towards the sound. The chakram whizzed through the air and sliced cleanly through the wood of the closet door. There was a crunching sound, a gasp and then a dull thud when the body collapsed against it.

Gulping visibly, Jack had practically buried himself into the wall. He turned his head and gazed at the bullet hole in the paneling only inches away. Xena strode past him to the closet and opened the door. The body fell forward, twisting and then landing on its back, the chakram imbedded deeply into his chest. Xena reached down and with one swift motion, pulled the round disk from the body, wiping the bloody blade on his shirt before slipping it back into its hiding place, the waistband of her pants.

Crouching down, she rummaged through the pockets of his coat and pants searching for some form of identification. Finding none, she cocked her head and then ripped open the front of his shirt, revealing a tattoo that covered his torso. Around his neck hung an amulet that she recognized.

"Great." Xena said, angrily snatching the necklace from around his neck and flinging his shirt closed. She looked down at the dagger pendant and then closed her hand around it.

"Who is it?" Jack asked from over her shoulder.

Xena looked over her at him with narrowed eyes.

"You don’t want to know." She answered in a tight voice.

 

Chapter 14

Gabrielle drove through the city and onto the Capital Beltway going north to the suburbs. Taking the off ramp from the beltway she drove through the sleepy suburb to her home. She clicked a button on the remote that was clipped to her visor when she approached a chalet nestled behind a wall of trees. The garage door swung upwards and she parked her car inside. She smiled at the sounds of furious barking from inside.

Gabrielle won a small monetary award from her accident and she used the money wisely. With the help of her new friends, Gabe and Kay, she wrote stories and her novels climbed the best seller lists.

Through the years she lived with and hid the raging hunger that consumed her. She mourned the love that was missing from her life, but she accepted her fate and did what she could to help others. Her celebrity status afforded her the opportunity to provide services to the community through charity and volunteer work.

She thought she was the only one with this curse until now. There were several bodies in the morgue with puncture wounds to their necks. There were more like her out there and she needed to know who they were.

Gabrielle dropped her briefcase and purse into an overstuffed chair in the living room while her dogs, a pair of chocolate labs, danced frantically around her demanding attention. Two Siamese felines also made an appearance, weaving themselves between her ankles, pointedly ignoring the canines. She petted each of them in turn and then walked to the far side of the room. On the roll top desk she clicked a flashing button on her answering machine and turned on her computer.

"Gabrielle, this is Gabe." His voice came from the answering machine as Gabrielle walked into the kitchen and opened a can of food for her cats.

"Kay and I would like you to come over for dinner tomorrow. Give us a call." She smiled at the familiar voice of her friend.

Gabrielle walked back to her desk and sat down at the computer. She scanned through her e-mail and then sighed in disappointment that there was nothing worth reading. She shut down the machine and walked back to the couch, opened her purse and pulled out several units of blood. In the kitchen she poured the liquid into several thermoses and placed them in the refrigerator. She poured the red liquid from the last unit into a glass and drank it. Her eyes closed and she sighed deeply. When her eyes opened, they glimmered gold for a few brief seconds before returning to their original color. Rinsing out the glass she placed it in the dishwasher and then went upstairs to shower and turn in for the night.

Her restful sleep was interrupted by the incessant buzzing of her pager around 4 a.m. Reluctantly she opened one eye, then the other and sat up groggily. Stifling a yawn with her hand she reached over to the nightstand, grabbed the pager and peered down at the message window and groaned. Grumbling, she picked up her phone and made a call to the precinct. The dispatcher on the phone told her that there was an incident, and gave Gabrielle the address. Hastily, she crawled out of bed and jumped into her sweat pants and shoes. She stumbled down the stairs while shrugging into a sweatshirt. She was pulling her hood over her head on the way out the door to her car.

Gabrielle arrived at the crime scene and climbed from her car sipping from a large cup of coffee. Placing the steaming cup on the hood of her car, she rubbed her hands together to warm them. She picked up her coffee cup and walked towards the yellow police tape that was wrapped around several trees in the park. A detective was huddled over a prone body. He glanced over his shoulder and gave her a wan smile. They had worked together before on previous cases and had been working together on this particular case since the beginning, three months ago

"Morning, Gabrielle. Sorry to wake you so early." he said and lifted the yellow tape so she could duck under. "I thought you might want to see this since you've an interest in this case, and you helped me solve the last one." He turned his sparkling blue eyes on her. "Thanks for putting me in the credits by the way, in the last novel."

"Hey, if it weren't for you, there wouldn't have been a novel." Gabrielle smiled.

He glanced at her attire, taking in the sweatpants, the inside-out sweat shirt and the silk nightgown peeking out from the side of her pants and grinned. Looking down at herself, Gabrielle scowled when she noticed that she wore the sweat shirt inside out and tucked her wayward nightgown down in her pants.

"They say lace goes with silk. You wouldn’t happen to be wearing that too?"

"Detective Sloan, that’s for me to know and someday, for someone to find out." she bantered and then sobered.

"So, what have you got here?" she asked, all business now.

"Well, he’s not wearing silk." The detective quipped and smirked at her. "Male, Caucasian, mid to late twenties. Body is stone cold, no blood, and there are puncture wounds on the neck." He crouched down and pulled back the sheet so she could see the markings.

Gabrielle’s heart thumped hard for a few beats at the mention of puncture wounds on the neck and swallowed. She squatted down, leaned over the body and inspected the wounds. Two small red punctures marred the surface of his smooth neck. She spun around at a sudden flash. One of the police officers had lit a flare and it blinded her temporarily. Across the street several reporters jumped out of a van and ran towards the scene like bloodhounds after the scent of their prey.

Detective Sloan quickly rose to his feet and strode over to intercept the aggressive news reporters before they could get a glimpse of the body. A barrage of questions spewed forth from the reporters and Gabrielle turned back to the victim. She zipped up the body bag and stared down at it for a moment.

"Who are you?" She whispered and stared down at the black bag.

The detective ordered several officers to the police line and they held back the reporters. He snatched his ringing phone from an inside pocket of his long coat. When he completed the call he snapped his cell phone shut and walked back over to Gabrielle, still crouched over the body.

"Gabrielle, I just got another call. Another find just around the corner. Coming?" He asked.

"Sure. Why not? Sleep can wait." She answered wryly and the detective gave her a sympathetic look.

"The commissioner is gonna want some answers soon. The reporters have caught wind of this ‘vampire’ rumor. It’s gonna be in all the papers and he’s gonna be breathing down my neck and holding a flame to my ass." The detective griped as they climbed into his car.

"Detective, I don’t have anything new. I wish I did. The puncture wounds are clean, there are no fingerprints, no fibers, no hair, no nothing, except saliva and we have to wait for the results from the lab on that. Whoever it is, they're being very careful." Gabrielle said and stared through the windshield of his car as he drove off.

Detective Sloan pulled the unmarked car into a spot in front of a warehouse next to several police cruisers, their blue and red lights flashing. They both got out of the vehicle and climbed up the stairs. Inside, a swath of yellow tape wound around several pillars outlining another crime scene. Ducking under the tape they crouched by the body of an Asian male, his shirt was open revealing a body tattoo and a very ugly gash across his chest.

"Nasty." The detective commented.

"What? The tattoo?" Gabrielle said.

"No, the gash. It cut right through his ribcage, no splintering of bone."

Gabrielle’s face froze and she leaned in closer for a better look at the wound. It was a clean cut, narrow but very deep as if someone had thrown a metal pie pan into his chest.

"Must have been one hell of a sharp blade." The detective said.

"No, not just any blade." Gabrielle replied. "Notice how it's shallow at the edges but very deep in the middle. Something very sharp, razor sharp, not a knife, but something- ....round."

"You mean like a sickle?"

Gabrielle’s mind was in a whirl. The only thing that she knew that could do something like this was the chakram. Her mouth suddenly went dry.

Nearby, hiding in the shadows, Xena berated herself for not leaving sooner. Someone tipped off the police and next thing they knew, police cars were screeching to a stop outside the warehouse. It was a setup. Xena and Jack didn't even have a chance to escape from the warehouse by a rear entrance before the police effectively blocked it off. Xena dragged Jack out of the office to the shadows of a large pillar and now he crouched behind her in a corner, hugging his briefcase.

"Hades balls!" She cursed.

"I’ve got to get out of here!" Jack whimpered. He lunged forward and ran past her out into the open.

"Jack!" Xena shouted and made a feeble attempt to catch him when he ran past her.

The sound of guns cocking echoed in the expansive room and police officers spun around. They aimed their weapons at Jack as he ran for the exit.

"Halt! Police!" A voice shouted in warning.

But Jack didn’t stop, he pulled out a semi-automatic pistol from the waistband of his pants. Weapons fired and he stumbled, his body jerked with each round that was fired into his body. Xena saw him fall forward in slow motion, his mouth open in a silent scream and blood spurted thickly from the wounds.

"No!" She shouted and stepped out from her hiding place. Her chakram was clenched in her hand and it glinted. Weapons swiveled in her direction, and she was rendered motionless, not because of the guns, but because of the blonde woman standing next to the dead body of the Asian.

Xena gazed at her, taking in the golden hair, the petite figure and the soft green eyes. Gabrielle in turn stared back, her mouth open in shock.

"Xena!" Gabrielle whispered and her heart lurched in her chest. Her hand flew to her mouth when the police swarmed around her friend. She felt faint, her eyes brimmed with tears and she balled her hand into a fist against her mouth. Biting on her knuckles, she swallowed a cry of anguish. She started to run towards her soul mate, but the detective held her back and she struggled to get free. She didn't hear his words, but she heard the warning in the voice.

Xena, still stunned, could only stare, oblivious to the circle of police officers closing in. Her fingers went limp and the chakram fell from her hand with a dull clank to the dusty floor. She didn’t even notice that her arms were pulled behind her back. She didn’t feel the cold metal handcuffs snap shut around her wrists. She blinked, once, then twice, and a muffled cry escaped her lips as recognition of the woman before her came into focus.

Her anger burst forth and her growl was low and feral, the air around her crackled darkly with intense energy. The police officers backed away slowly, regarding her with wary eyes and raised their weapons.

In a flurry of motion, Xena crouched, snatched up her chakram with bound hands and then sprang into the ceiling. The officers fired at her as her body flew over them and into the rafters. Sparks flew when the chakram deflected the bullets. With one last glance at Gabrielle, Xena leapt from the beam and dove through a window, raining shards of glass down on the officers below.

Like a phantom, she disappeared into the night.

 

Chapter 15

Gabrielle drove home in a daze. She sat in her car, turned off the headlights and stared through the windshield. She couldn't move, she couldn't think and she felt numb. Her thoughts were all jumbled, tumbling over one another.

Gathering her wits about her she took a deep breath, got out of the car and went inside. As the door closed a dark shadow from a tree slid silently to a trellis on the side of her house.

Gabrielle walked upstairs, oblivious to the canines that danced excitedly around her.

She walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower thinking that the hot water would soothe her raw nerves. She undressed and stepped into the jetting water and her body slowly relaxed. She turned the water off and stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel about her. Her eyes snapped open and she had the feeling that she wasn’t alone. A dark form appeared in her bedroom and then stepped into the light.

"Xena? By the Gods! It really is you!" She whispered and her arm reached out and familiar strong arms encircled her. Xena tightened her hold on the young woman as they slowly sank down to the carpet. Gabrielle reached up and cradled Xena’s face in the palms of her hands.

"Oh, Gabrielle. I’ve found you." Xena said, her voice cracking with emotion.

Xena looked down at her soul mate, a multitude of emotions flickered behind the blue eyes. They sat there, hugging and rocking each other. Gabrielle sobbed with both joy and sadness, her tears darkened the already dark leather jacket that Xena wore and Xena cried into Gabrielle’s golden hair.

Gabrielle slid her hand behind Xena’s neck and pulled her down for a kiss. The kiss was soft and tender and they reacquainted themselves to one another’s touch. Quickly, a fire sprung up and burned within, consuming them in its heat. The warrior pulled the towel away from Gabrielle's body and it fell to the floor. She slid her hands around the blonde's back, relishing the feel of her skin. With deft fingers, Gabrielle unzipped Xena’s jacket and slid it down the long arms. She reached behind, set the chakram aside and grasped the bottom of the t-shirt, pulling it up and over Xena's head. The warrior's hair tumbled over her broad shoulders. Gabrielle caressed the smooth skin and then pushed Xena down on her back. Lying on top and between her legs, she trailed kisses down Xena’s throat leaving a river of fire in their wake, slid her hands down the warrior's arms and entwined their fingers.

"Yes, Gabrielle! Now!" Xena moaned loudly, her blue eyes changing over to gold.

The fiery heat coursed through their veins and Gabrielle growled softly in response. She bit down on the tender flesh at the nape of the warrior's neck and drank the life that was freely given to her. Xena cried out in both pleasure and pain, the fire spreading downward to her loins. Flipping Gabrielle over she trapped her arms over her head. Golden orbs gleamed up at her and Gabrielle turned her head, offering her life blood in return. Xena drove a knee between Gabrielle’s legs, lowered her head and took what was being offered. Gabrielle’s back arched and she moaned, her legs squeezing Xena’s leather clad thigh.

Breathing raggedly, the heat of their passion cooled and they lay in each others arms. Xena lifted her head, stared down at her soul mate, kissed her lips softly and planted tender kisses over the rest of Gabrielle's nude body. Gabrielle’s body awakened, responding to Xena's slow and sensual ministrations. Xena lifted her and carried her to the bed. She stripped the rest of her clothing from her body, lit candles, and then returned to the bed, lowering herself over the woman she loved.

 

Chapter 16

They awoke slowly to bright streamers of light that flitted over them through the trees outside the bedroom window.

Xena looked over at Gabrielle who lay snuggled into the curve of her shoulder and smiled. An errant lock of golden hair had settled across Gabrielle’s face and she brushed the lock away with her fingertips, lightly caressing the soft skin. Gabrielle murmured softly and opened a sleepy eye.

"Morning." Xena said as she leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on Gabrielle’s lips.

Gabrielle withdrew her arms from under the sheets and wrapped them lightly around Xena’s neck. When the kiss broke they looked into each others eyes, reading emotions that needed no words to convey.

Pulling Xena in close for a hug she whispered into her ear, "I love you."

Xena’s smile was hidden in Gabrielle’s hair. "I love you too, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle closed her eyes and laid her head back down on Xena's shoulder, the soft raven hair tickling her nose. She looked at the clock on the nightstand.

"Oh man, I have to get up. I'm late! I was supposed to be at the morgue an hour ago." She mumbled.

"The morgue?" Xena stared down at her.

"Yeah. The medical examiner and I are good friends. She always gives me information before the cops get there." After a brief pause she continued, "there are bodies at the morgue with puncture wounds in their necks. And more are still turning up."

"Really?" Intrigued, Xena raised a dark brow.

"Yeah, it's uncanny." Gabrielle looked at Xena sideways. "Do you know anything about this?"

"I'm not sure, I might be on to something, but I need to check it out." She said and Gabrielle nodded.

"Look, I know we have a lot of catching up to do, so why don’t you do what you need to do then meet me at the morgue say, around dinner time and we’ll get a bite to eat and talk?"

"I’ll be there." Xena answered.

Reluctantly, Gabrielle folded back the covers and eased herself out of the warm bed. She was aware of the eyes that followed her to the dresser and a faint blush crept into her face. Xena raised a rakish eyebrow when Gabrielle pulled silk undergarments from a drawer and laid them on the bed. When Gabrielle went into the bathroom, Xena sat up and her fingers caressed the silky material.

Smiling, Xena got out of the bed, walked into the bathroom and slipped quietly into the shower. When firm breasts pressed into her back, Gabrielle reached behind and caressed Xena's firm rear. Xena ran her hands over Gabrielle's breasts and down over her stomach. She stopped when Gabrielle grabbed her hands.

"I would really love to continue this, but duty calls." With an effort she pulled herself away, handed Xena the bar of soap and rinsed off. She stepped out of the shower, dried off and stood waiting with a clean towel which she handed to Xena when she finished showering. When Xena reached for it, Gabrielle swished it out her reach and a devilish grin appeared on her face. Xena reached for the towel again and Gabrielle moved it out of reach. Xena bounded out of the shower and gathered the giggling blonde into her arms.

"No time for play, duty calls, remember?" Xena admonished and deftly plucked the towel from her hand.

They sat down to a small breakfast of cold cereal and toast, and Xena told her about the FBI Agent she had been watching.

"Xena, why are you following her?"

"Because she's Mr. B."

"Mr. B?"

"I'll explain later when we have more time." She said and Gabrielle glanced at the uneaten toast on Xena's plate.

"Are you going to eat that?" Gabrielle pointed with her spoon.

"Yes! Mind your own plate." Xena moved her plate in closer and Gabrielle grinned.

After breakfast, Xena walked Gabrielle to her car.

"Gabrielle, has anyone been watching you? Have you noticed anyone following you?"

"No. Why?"

"Call it a hunch. I want you to be on your toes and to find out if you are being followed. Can you do that?"

"Yeah. But I still don’t understand why."

"I can’t explain right now, but just be careful, okay?"

"Okay."

"I’ve got to meet someone, some business to take care of. I’ll see you later."

Gabrielle nods.

"Xena, wait." Gabrielle touched Xena's arm. "Don't you need a ride?"

"Nope." She grinned and Gabrielle followed her gaze to a black Harley sitting by the curb.

"Nice bike." Gabrielle grinned. "Tell you what, how about you giving me a ride?"

 

Chapter 17

Just as the sun set, the FBI agent, Sharon McLane, returned home and Xena observed the woman moving around inside her home. She didn't have long to wait, the woman hung up the phone, left the house, and got into her car. When she drove off, Xena followed at a discreet distance.

The agent drove into the city and parked on a side street near the Lincoln memorial. She got out of her vehicle and walked up the steps of the monument. Xena pulled her bike into a parking space a few paces away and followed.

There was a young man leaning against one of the marble pillars smoking a cigarette. He threw it down when the agent approached him. Xena took a pair of binoculars from her coat pocket.

"You wanted information, well, I have it for you." She said.

From inside her jacket she produced a large envelope and handed it to him. The young man opened the envelope and pulled out photographs. Through the lens Xena was able make out the images.

"Who is he?" He held up a photo of a dark haired man.

"He’s the priest. He and his followers worship Satan. It’s a satanic cult." She said and leaned casually against one of the massive pillars.

"Jesus!" Hastily, he shoved the photo back into the envelope.

"They’re the ones who have been killing these people." She said.

"Call me." He said before she turned away and walked back down the steps.

The young man stuffed the envelope into his jacket and zipped it closed. Xena followed him, tapped him on the shoulder and he jumped. He turned and when he saw her, he started to run but Xena jabbed her fingers into his neck. She grabbed him by the collar and held him up against one of the marble columns.

"Who are you?" Xena demanded.

"I'm a reporter…for the Captial Times."

"What are you doing?"

"I was just tracking a story."

Xena pulled the packet of photos from his pocket and leafed through them.

"Why is she helping you?"

"They hope that by leaking this to the press, someone will come forward."

Xena released the pinch and he bent over, gagging. One photo of particular interest caught her eye and she slid it into a jacket pocket and dropped the rest at his feet.

Xena retrieved her bike and went to the morgue in search of Gabrielle. She parked her bike in the lot nearby and went into the building. People turned and stared at the retreating form of the tall raven haired beauty as she went past. When she rounded a corner she found Gabrielle and the medical examiner talking to a detective.

"We have a genetic sample from the saliva but no match." The doctor said

"Damn!" The detective smacked his fist into the palm of his hand. "We're back to square one."

When he stepped aside she saw Xena standing there.

"Xena!" Gabrielle said in surprise.

The detective turned and did a double take at the tall woman and appraised her from head to toe. "Hello Xena." Detective Duncan said.

"Take a picture, it'll last longer." She told him and walked up to Gabrielle who steered her down the hall and out of hearing range of the detective and the doctor.

"Must you be so rude?"

"I didn't like the way he was staring at me, or at you for that matter."

"Me?"

"Yes. When you weren't looking."

"Oh."

"Besides, I don't like him and he doesn't like me." She paused. "Here, take a look at this." Xena pulled the photo from her pocket and showed it to her.

Gabrielle glanced at the picture and leaned into the wall in shock and Xena put a supportive hand on her shoulder.

"Bacchus-.." Xena began.

"The Deliver." Gabrielle finished.

"This is Dahak's doing." Xena said.

"But I thought that the Bacchae were the ones that bit us and I thought Hercules killed Dahak."

"Dahak went into a fiery pit. Remember, Dahak comes from the pits of hell, so I don't think he's dead."

"So, we have two gods, but one entity?"

"Right. The entity that was Dahak is called The Dark One."

"The Dark One." Gabrielle rephrased. "But Mephistopheles was the King of Hell before Lucifer. And you killed Mephistopheles and then Lucifer took his place. Lucifer is the King of Hell"

Xena tilted her head as the wheels continued to turn inside Gabrielle's head.

"So, the essence of Dahak, his evil, exists in Hell, or more precisely, the King of Hell."

"Bingo."

"But where does Bacchus fit into all this?"

"I haven't figured that out yet." Xena said and Gabrielle had a thoughtful look on her face.

"So, if we're not Bacchae, what are we?"

"I don't know."

"Xena, this is crazy. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life like this. I want to go back to the way things were."

"So do I, Gabrielle. So do I."

"Gabrielle!" A voice called out and Gabrielle peeked around the corner. A tall raven haired woman strode up to her but stopped when Xena turned around.

"Um, Kay this is Xena. Xena, my friend, Kay. She's been good enough to watch my animals while I've been gone." Gabrielle gave Xena a look.

"Hello." Xena said simply and Gabrielle sighed inwardly.

Kay ignored Xena and pushed her way past to stand next to Gabrielle. "I just wanted to check up with you." She glanced in Xena's direction and Xena gave her a sardonic smile. "I thought you might want to know…the body count is now twenty-five."

"Twenty-five!" Gabrielle exclaimed and shot a look at Xena.

"Shh! Yes. Look, I have to go, but give me a call and let me know when you'll be home. Dinner tonight, right?" She gave Xena a hard stare and Gabrielle sighed again.

"Um, I can't. Something came up." Gabrielle laid a hand on Kay's arm and Xena raised a brow at the gesture.

"Oh. Okay, later then." She said, clearly disappointed and Xena smiled in satisfaction when the woman turned and pointedly ignored Xena when she walked past.

"Xena!" Gabrielle whispered and the warrior shifted her gaze from Kay's retreating back to her partner.

"I don't like her." Xena said and walked away.

"Of course not." Gabrielle mumbled, lifted her arms in resignation and followed.

"Xena, can we talk about this, please?" Gabrielle pleaded.

"We have plenty of time." Xena said.

"Oh, and what about you? Who have you met?" Gabrielle retorted and Xena snapped her mouth shut and opened the door for Gabrielle.

 

Chapter 18

"Come on Gabrielle, just a little longer." Xena whispered soothingly into her partner's ear. They had just left the restaurant when Gabrielle began shivering, a sign of the hunger. Xena gritted her teeth against her own increasing need and lifted her soul mate effortlessly into her arms. She carried her into the house and set her on a breakfast stool in the kitchen. The warrior opened the refrigerator and pulled out a tinted wine decanter and poured red liquid into a glass. Gabrielle got up and pushed the glass in Xena's hand to the counter.

"No. I want you." Gabrielle's breath was hot against her neck and those few words made the warrior's knees weaken.

A hand brushed against her shoulders, pushing her long hair out of the way. Gabrielle wrapped her fingers around Xena's neck and into her hair, pulling her down for a kiss. Her lips trailed across the strong jaw and down to the pulsing vein in the warrior's neck. Xena slid her hands under Gabrielle's skirt and dug her fingers into the firm rear when Gabrielle bit down and a low moan escaped from her lips. Nimble fingers unbuttoned Xena's shirt, pulling it down over broad shoulders, and exposing firm breasts. The tall warrior didn't bother with the buttons on Gabrielle's shirt, she grasped the collar in her hands and pulled, ripping the material, the buttons popping off and onto the floor. She pressed her partner against her, feeling the heat of her body and soft breasts against her skin.

Gabrielle lifted her head and with her tongue licked her lips clean and Xena watched as her golden orbs gradually changed back to the familiar green. The fire raged and Xena felt like screaming. She lifted Gabrielle and set her on the counter, brushing papers aside to flutter to the floor. She pushed her down onto her back, slid her hands underneath the short skirt and spread her partner's legs. She bent down and bit into the soft flesh on the inside of Gabrielle's thigh, near the apex of her legs. Gabrielle moaned and tangled her fingers into Xena's hair. Xena lifted her head and growled low in her throat before her eyes too, changed back to the familiar shade of blue.

Sated, they gazed at one another and Xena pulled Gabrielle into her arms and carried her upstairs to bed.

"Xena?"

"Hmm?"

"What happened to us?" Gabrielle asked and Xena sighed.

"What is pulling us, drawing us to one another like this?"

"We're soul mates."

"Right." Gabrielle looked off into the distance. "We share everything, even our own blood."

"Shh. Hush now." Xena said and set Gabrielle down. They undressed and climbed into bed, Gabrielle snuggled comfortably into the crook of Xena's shoulder. After a short while, Gabrielle began to snore softly and Xena closed her eyes.

 

Chapter 19

The alarm clock buzzed and Xena slapped a hand over it, abruptly stopping the noise. Gabrielle turned and flopped an arm over Xena's torso and her stomach tightened from the impact. They both bolted upright when the doorbell rang and Gabrielle glanced at Xena.

"Are you expecting company?"

"No." Xena answered and climbed out of bed and shrugged into her terrycloth robe.

"Any other women I should know about?"

"Gabrielle…"

"Okay, okay. Just checking." Gabrielle grinned and raised her hands as a sign of truce. They spent the entire time at dinner the night before telling each other about their experiences since they arrived. Gabrielle talked about her writing and of the people she met, while Xena talked briefly about Valerie and about the business she was in and Gabrielle didn't push. She knew that Xena was telling her the truth about everything and she had no reason to believe otherwise, so strong was her faith in the strength of their relationship and the love they had for each other.

"Stay here. I'll check it out." Xena turned and tied the sash to her robe as she walked down the stairs. She folded the collar down over her neck to hide the tiny purplish bruises.

She opened the door and came face to face with the one person she least expected to see.

"Sharon McLane, FBI." The brunette flashed her badge and waved a folded piece of paper under Xena's nose. "I have a search warrant to search the premises."

"May I ask what for?" Xena asked, perplexed.

"Stolen artifacts. There was a heist at the National Gallery last week. Know anything about it?"

"Nope."

Without waiting for an invitation, they brushed past Xena and entered the house.

"Come on in." Xena lifted an arm and closed the door.

Agent McLane handed her the morning paper from the stoop outside.

"Your paper."

"Thank you." Xena replied politely.

Xena tucked the paper under her arm and walked upstairs intending to wake Gabrielle and warn her about the company downstairs before she realized that Agent McLane was right behind her. Xena stopped and glanced over her shoulder at the woman.

"Mind if I accompany you." She asked but Xena knew it wasn't a request.

"Not at all." Xena’s lips twitched. She was looking forward to this.

She followed Xena the rest of the way up the stairs and stepped into the loft. Agent McLane froze when she saw the partially nude woman in the bed and Xena raised a rakish eyebrow, enjoying the agents discomfort.

Xena walked over to Gabrielle’s side of the bed and pulled the covers over Gabrielle's nude body and shook her shoulder gently. Gabrielle woke and pulled the covers further up her torso and tucked them around her when she saw the tall brunette standing at the stairs.

"Xena, what's going on?" She shifted her gaze from the female agent to her friend standing by the bed.

"Gabrielle Gabris, author of the blockbuster novel, "Warriors of the Streets"." Agent McLane said and Gabrielle shot her a surprised look and the woman's brown eyes flickered with a hint of amusement.

"Xena?" Gabrielle shifted her gaze back to Xena once again.

"Um, Gabrielle, meet Agent McLane, FBI." Xena replied and Gabrielle’s eyes widened.

"She’s here to take a tour of my house." Xena said and leaned into Gabrielle's ear. "Search warrant."

"Uh huh."

"They think I may have some stolen artifacts hidden here." She added with a glance at the agent.

"Really?" Gabrielle responded, intrigued.

"I don't know about you, but I could really go for a cup of coffee." Xena said and held a robe out to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle stepped out of bed and Xena shielded her partner from the agent's eyes with her body. After Gabrielle tied the sash she turned and walked down the stairs to the kitchen, both women in her wake.

"Anyone else want coffee?" Xena shouted from the kitchen to the other agents scattered about.

Several of them looked up and stared at Gabrielle and Xena for a brief moment before agent McLane stepped into view and they quickly glanced away.

"Xena, they’re practically tearing up your house!" Gabrielle hissed into Xena's ear.

"Gabrielle, I know where everything is, and everything has its place." Xena raised her eyebrow, slightly amused at the agents determination to find something, anything.

"Right." Gabrielle said shaking her head.

Xena opened her paper and her face darkened. Sprawled across the page was the headline "Is There A Vampire In The Nation's Capital?" She set the paper down so that Gabrielle could see it, and the blonde paled when she saw the headline. Gabrielle picked up the paper and read the story.

"Interesting article isn’t it?" Agent McLane said.

"Very." Gabrielle responded in a soft voice.

"Vampires?" She scoffed and Gabrielle looked at her sharply. Sparks flew between them.

"You don't believe that they exist, Agent McLane? Gabrielle asked.

"Do they?" The woman replied.

"Yes, they do." Xena answered.

Agent McLane raised an eyebrow at Xena’s bold statement. She shifted her gaze back to Gabrielle who suddenly found the coffee in her mug fascinating.

"Xena, we found your name on an encrypted disk that belonged to Jack Daniel. Seems the two of you knew each other."

"Yes. We do business from time to time."

"We have reason to believe that he was involved with the heist at the museum last week."

"Really?" Xena took a sip from her mug and agent McLane shot her an irritated look.

"Unfortunately we'll never know because he was shot trying to flee a crime scene." She continued.

"Agent McLane?" one of her agents said.

"Yes?" She answered and turned to face him.

"We've searched the entire house and found nothing relevant to the robbery, but we've packed all papers and computer disks into boxes and we're ready to move out."

"Good." She said and he escorted the agents from the house. Agent McLane turned to Xena and smiled.

"Thank you Xena, I'll be in touch." She said.

"Of course, Mr. B." Xena replied and the brunette stopped dead in her tracks. She turned and gave Xena a hard stare.

"The name is Agent McLane." She shifted her gaze from Xena to Gabrielle before turning and stepping through the door. Xena placed a hand on the oak wood and slammed the door shut.

"They took a lot of stuff."

"Ah, but not the important stuff." Xena chuckled.

Gabrielle shot her a confused look and followed Xena to the library.

She raised an eyebrow when Xena pulled the spine of a book and the shelf swung open to reveal the hidden room. Chuckling, she followed Xena to a large oak desk and looked over Xena's shoulder when she sat down in front of her computer.

"All this technology. How did you get used to it?"

"It took a while. We've been in this time for almost a year now."

"I know, I missed you." Gabrielle combed Xena's long tresses with her fingers.

"I missed you too." Xena reached back and placed a kiss on Gabrielle's knuckles.

"You should have seen me trying to learn how to drive." She laughed.

"And you thought horses were stubborn." Xena quipped.

"Funny, Xena." Gabrielle chuckled.

"Well, you have to admit, all this technology has made life easier." Gabrielle paused when Xena gave her a look. "I mean, if you want breakfast, lunch or dinner, you go to the grocery store. You buy the meat already butchered, go home and cook it."

"Yeah, but it's just more civilized. Instead of going out hunting for it, skinning and butchering it, someone else does the dirty work for us. We just pick it out and pay for it."

"Hmm, true." Gabrielle agreed. "Except for the technology, things are basically the same. There are still bad guys. And the good guys go after them." She smiled when Xena gave a throaty chuckle.

"The Wizard?" Gabrielle commented, reading the email over Xena's shoulder.

"Yeah. He does my research and handles my business affairs. Here's the email he sent me."

"Mr. B?" Gabrielle said in a puzzled voice when the woman's photo appeared on the screen.

"Is Agent McLane." Xena finished.

"Okay, now I'm confused."

"The body at the warehouse, the one with the tattoo, he's part of a cult, a satanic cult." Xena reached into the desk drawer and pulled out the dagger pendant on its chain.

"You've got my attention." Gabrielle said.

"Mr. B, or Agent McLane has been meeting a reporter and giving him information on this cult."

"Why is she doing that?"

"I don't know." Xena handed Gabrielle the pendant.

"Wait. Xena, what if she's working undercover?"

"You mean as a member of the cult?"

"Yeah, didn't you notice the tattoo on the inside of her hand?" Gabrielle turned the pendant in her hand.

"Now I missed that."

"It was the same symbol that I saw on the wrist of the body at the warehouse." She pulled the tiny handle and it glided out of its sheath.

"You know, you just may be right."

"And as long as The Dark One has worshipers he will continue to corrupt the innocent." Gabrielle said and the tiny blade winked in the light.

"Yes. It’s a losing battle, Gabrielle. He may be an entity that we may not be able to destroy."

"But, we can keep him from entering this world. Maybe that’s why we’re here." She put the tiny blade back in its sheath and handed it back to Xena.

They looked at each other, contemplating her words.

"I think I know who can help us. I met him on one of my trips to Rome." Xena put the pendant back in the desk drawer and picked up the phone.

 

Chapter 20

Xena and Gabrielle stood in the hall by the front door preparing to leave for Gabrielle's home so she could stop by and take care of her pets. She had called Kay the day before, who happily agreed to look after her pets while she was away.

At a noise, they turned to the door and a large envelope was shoved under the crack. Xena opened the door, stepped outside and looked around for anything suspicious. Seeing nothing, she stepped back into the house and closed the door. She bent over and picked up the manila envelope gingerly. Carefully she opened the flap and spilled the contents out onto a small desk.

There were photos of Xena attacking a man in an alley and of Gabrielle drinking the blood from her thermos in the underground parking lot.

"Uh, oh. Someone knows who we are."

"Yeah, Mr. B." Xena held up a photo of McLane with a camera in her hands. "I think it's time to do some investigating of our own, but first I need to make that call again."

From her wallet she pulled out a card and dialed a number. After a few rings a woman at the other end answered.

"Dr. Magellios office, how may I help you?"

"I'd like to speak to Dr. Magellios, please."

"He's busy at the moment, may I take your name and number."

"I already left a message. Look, this is rather urgent, please tell him that Xena is on the line, he'll take my call."

"All right, one moment please." The secretary said and Xena didn't have to wait long for the archeologist to answer on the other end.

"Xena! What a pleasant surprise."

"Hello, Dr. Magellios."

"Ah, call me David. How are you?"

"Fine, David. Listen, I have something urgent."

"The scrolls?"

"No, not the scrolls. I need some information." She paused. "In the Christian faith, how does one banish evil?"

"Well, pray for starters." She could hear him shuffling through papers. "There's a document here from the time of Eli. We think it contains the chants necessary to banish evil, but we haven't been able to decipher the runes."

"I think I can help you. Can you fax me a copy?" She asked.

"Yes, but one question." He said and paused.

"Yes?" Xena said in a smooth voice.

"Why are you here?" He asked.

"What?" Xena said and shot a glance at Gabrielle who shrugged.

"I sensed it when we where on the plane. You don't belong here."

"You're right. With your help, I hope to take myself and by partner, Gabrielle, back where we belong." She said and there was a choking sound at the other end.

"David? Are you all right?"

"Give me your fax number and I'll fax it right away."

"Thank you, David."

"Oh, the pleasure is all mine, Xena, Warrior Princess."

"So, you know the truth." She exchanged glances with Gabrielle.

"Yes. Tell me what the evil is that you're facing." He paused. "No, wait, I'm catching the next flight and I'll bring everything you might need."

"All right, we'll meet you at the airport."

 

Chapter 21

Xena and Gabrielle stood outside the gate, waiting for David to alight from his flight. When Xena spotted him she stepped forward and got his attention. The tall man brushed an errant lock of dark hair from his face and walked briskly down the ramp towards them.

"It's good to see you again, Xena." He said and held out his hand which Xena took and shook it briefly before introducing him to her partner.

"So, you're Gabrielle, the Battling Bard of Poteidaia." David said and she smiled in return.

"I've read some of your scrolls." He told her.

"My scrolls?" She turned her head to Xena who smiled soberly. "You've read them?"

"Yes, I believed them to be fact and not fiction like many of my colleagues."

"Oh." Gabrielle said disappointedly.

"Well, think about it, a woman warrior and a bard, traveling to far lands, fighting for the greater good. Two thousand years ago? Well, it's almost unheard of!"

"Their loss." Xena said.

"And my gain. I'm actually in the presence of a legend!" he was beaming and his earring winked at them. "I can't believe that the stories were true!"

Xena and Gabrielle stopped and stared at him.

"Everyone thought that the stories of Xena, the Warrior Princess was a myth, a fable, a bedtime story. Something the bards made up for entertainment" He explained.

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances.

'Well, there's truth to the saying, 'Legends never die'." Gabrielle quipped.

"Right." Xena rolled her eyes. "Okay, David, Gabrielle will bring you up to date, while I go snag a cab. We'll have to pick up your luggage later."

"I only brought this bag." He replied, hefting a knapsack over his shoulder.

"Good." Xena said and guided them out of the airport.

Xena flagged a cab and Gabrielle told the archeologist the tale of how they came to be in this timeline and what kind of evil they were up against. He opened his bag and pulled out a parchment and handed it to Gabrielle.

"Here, you'll need this. This is the manuscript that is rumored to disperse evil."

"Thank you." Gabrielle said.

"Oh, don't thank me. I can't read the runes. I only hope that the rumors are true." David said apologetically.

"Don't worry, Gabrielle is proficient in many languages." Xena replied and Gabrielle carefully unfurled the scroll. The warrior looked at her with concern when she let out a soft gasp.

"What is it?" She asked.

"This was written by Eli." Gabrielle whispered and David's eyes went wide.

"Well, then we've definitely got the right scroll." Xena said.

The cab stopped at a curb and the trio disembarked and walked behind a large oak tree for cover. Xena pointed to the house across the street.

"It looks quiet, maybe no one at home." Gabrielle whispered.

"Maybe." Xena replied. "David, stay here." Xena said and moved forward with Gabrielle following in her shadow.

They climbed over the tall iron fence, crept across the lawn, skirting the cameras. The minute they stepped onto the porch, several hidden motion detectors tripped a silent alarm. The front door popped open and they peered inside. Cautiously they stepped forward unaware that a pair of eyes were watching them from a view screen in another part of the house.

They glanced about and then climbed the stairs towards the sound of chanting. The wood stairs creaked under their weight but no one came to investigate.

"Hmm. You’re good, whomever you are." A female giggled, watching the duo on her screen.

"Come on. That’s it, up the hall. Come to mommy." She cooed and fingered the small dagger that hung around her neck.

Suddenly, brilliant lights came on, blinding them. There was a screeching noise and gates slid across the hall, in front and behind, trapping Xena and Gabrielle. Noisily, the gates locked into place and Xena grabbed the bars, shook them and they rattled.

A woman walked into their line of sight. Her brown hair shone and her eyes sparkled.

"Well, hello there, Xena. Gabrielle."

"McLane." Xena said and the woman nodded in acknowledgement.

"I've a question I've been wanting to ask you." Xena paused and examined the metal bars. "Tell me, why Valerie?"

"I'm sorry about her, Xena, she knew too much. I couldn't protect her, it would have blown my cover." She smiled regrettably. "I can't protect you either."

"Knew too much about what?"

"Oh, Xena you know what's going on, don't try to fool me. I'm much smarter than that."

"All right. Tell me where the priest is."

"Don't worry, you'll find him because you'll be the sacrifice tonight."

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances and stepped back. Xena retrieved her chakram from inside the waistband of her jeans. Lifting it into the air, she swung it and the metal disk cut effortlessly through the metal bars and into the chest of the brunette. The woman's eyes stared wide and her body fell backwards to the floor.

Xena and Gabrielle applied pressure to the cut bars of the cage and several of them bent outward. They climbed through and Gabrielle went to the prone body on the floor. Unbuttoning the top two buttons of the woman's shirt, she pulled the fabric apart and they caught a glimpse of a body tattoo around the metal disk in her chest.

"She turned, didn't she?" Gabrielle asked and Xena nodded. The tall warrior bent over and pulled the chakram from the woman's ribs.

"Maybe she didn't have a choice." Gabrielle said.

"Maybe." Xena didn't seem to care.

From her crouched position, Gabrielle turned to the door at the end of the hall.

"Let's go." Xena said, and she followed.

Pushing open the door, they entered a room illuminated by rows of candles. Chanting voices were heard directly below them. They walked to the railing and peered down. dozens of worshipers in dark robes bowed and chanted to a voice at the front of the room. Xena recognized the face behind the cowl of the robe from one of the photographs. He was the dark priest, dressed in a scarlet robe. Worshipers walked up to him and drank from the gold goblet that he held in his hands.

The chakram glinted in the muted light and then it sped towards the priest. The chakram knocked the cup from his hands and there was a shower of sparks when it rebounded from a wall. The chanting stopped and all faces turned to follow the path of the spinning disk. Xena snatched it from the air, gave her warrior yell and plunged down into the melee. Shaking her head, Gabrielle jumped up and grabbed a hold of a hanging candelabra and swung herself over the chaos below. Her booted feet kicked out and sent several men crashing down onto their backs. She pushed herself from the wall and the candelabra swung back the way it came. Again her feet struck out and she let out a small chuckle when worshippers began fleeing the room.

"This is really starting to bore me." Xena commented when Gabrielle landed beside her and she backhanded an attacker on her left and then jabbed a fist into another advancing on her from the right.

"You know, it seems that no matter where we go, we always end up fighting bad guys." Gabrielle said before taking a lit candelabra from the altar and jamming it into an attacker, setting his robe on fire.

"Enough!" A voice bellowed. Everyone stopped and turned their attention in the direction of the voice.

The priest glided forward and his eyes dilated until they were completely black. He stared at Xena and they watched as the power of Dahak flowed through him. His body transformed before their very eyes.

"Dahak brought you here." His eyes changed again, gleaming red, a pair of horns twisted out from his skull, and the nails on his fingers glowed red as if slick with blood.

"Why?" Xena asked.

"The hunger was to consume you until it became a way of life. You were to spread the hunger, creating a new breed of warriors, but Bacchus had other plans." His voice changed, it became more guttural and primal.

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle inquired.

"Bacchus wanted you for himself and when Dahak found out, he had no choice but to destroy him. Shame, he could have been a valuable ally."

"I'm not evil, Deliverer!" Xena shouted.

"Oh, yes you are, you've killed innocents in your blood lust before finding another way to feed the hunger." He looked meaningfully at Xena and Gabrielle.

Gabrielle swallowed visibly and Xena's lip curled into a snarl.

"Your lust for blood makes you evil." The God smiled an unearthly smile. "I am all powerful. I can turn your own thoughts and feelings against you. Gabrielle knows that." He glanced behind Xena to smile evilly at Gabrielle.

Xena reached back and pressed Gabrielle against her protectively. "Do you remember the day your son died, Xena?" He paused for effect and then continued, "I heard your screams. Oh, how you cried out in your pain."

Anger and intense hatred bubbled unbidden to the surface. Xena clamped down on her jaw, clenched her hands into fists and fought it, fought Dahak for control over her own mind.

"Oh, we are so not going there!" Xena said through clenched teeth.

"Look at her!" The voice commanded and Xena glanced over her shoulder at Gabrielle.

"Because of her, your son is dead!" He pointed at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle stepped out into the open, her face set in a dark scowl.

"No! Because of you, her son is dead!" She spat and pointed at him.

The Deliverer roared and when he swept his arm, Xena went flying into a wall and then to the dirt packed floor in a heap.

"Ah, Gabrielle. You should have joined me. Your daughter and I would have welcomed you." A soft husky voice purred to her.

"Dahak?" She whispered and the entity smiled when a wisp of fear crept into her face. Tendrils of fire spewed lazily from his fingers and licked at her feet.

"Never!" Gabrielle shook away the fear and her face twisted in disgust. "She was never my daughter." Her voice cracked with remembered pain.

"But she could have been." He retorted and she narrowed her eyes in anger and she could almost feel the hate that she felt towards this evil god.

"Would you willingly sacrifice yourself for the life of your friend? Oh, why did I even bother to ask, of course you would, and you have. A pity." He smirked when Gabrielle's smile turned cruel.

"Yes, I still want you here beside me, you lovely young thing." He purred and a thin line of flame wrapped itself around her ankle.

Gabrielle’s body shook, she was losing control over some very powerful emotions.

"Anger. Yes, let it go, Gabrielle. Let me feel your anger." He breathed and several tendrils of fire encircled her wrists and the remaining free ankle.

Gabrielle sobered at his words, realizing that his intent was to escalate her anger into rage, and she couldn’t let that happen, it would destroy Xena and herself. She tugged at the flaming restraints.

"Oh, no you don’t! You’re not going to get the best of me!" she snapped at him.

He snarled and pointed a talon finger at her. She shuddered and dropped to her knees, hugging her arms around her. Xena rushed to her side and grabbed her by the shoulders. When Gabrielle's face snapped up, two golden orbs gleamed from a pale face. A pair of canines appeared and she attacked the raven haired warrior. They rolled back and forth across the floor before Xena managed to trap Gabrielle's hands behind her back.

Gabrielle snarled and tried to nip at Xena's neck.

"Gabrielle! Look at me! Put those away and look at me!" Xena shouted into her partner's face.

Xena leaned down and covered Gabrielle's mouth with her own. She winced when the sharp teeth bit into her lip and it bled, but the woman beneath her stopped struggling. When she opened her eyes, misty green ones gazed up into her own.

The flames burst higher and the Deliverer shouted Dahak's words.

"You forget, you are mortals. I am a god. I can make you do anything I want!"

"You call yourself a god?" Xena said and jumped to her feet. Gabrielle followed suit and began chanting from a manuscript that she had folded up in her pocket.

The scenery faded away and they found themselves in a pale opaque mist. Xena was once again wearing her leathers and Gabrielle, her amazon attire. The Deliverer looked around at his surroundings and laughed.

"You can't defeat me here!"

"Oh, yes we can! We're not in your realm, you're in ours!"

"What!" he bellowed. "Impossible!"

"Anything's possible." Gabrielle countered.

Xena reached back, drew her sword and Gabrielle pulled her sais from her boots. The Deliverer threw his arm forward, but nothing happened.

"You have no power here." Gabrielle said and she circled him.

"Grrr!" He growled and there was the hiss of metal when he drew his sword.

"You're not going anywhere except back to hell where you belong!" Xena shouted and she attacked.

Sparks flew when their swords connected and he shoved Xena forcefully. The warrior flew backwards and disappeared into the thick mist. The Deliverer rounded on Gabrielle and raised his sword. His sword came crashing down over her head but she stopped his attack with her sais and he forced her down to her knees. With his free hand he wrapped his fingers around Gabrielle's neck and lifted her up and off her feet. Gagging, she drove the sais into his back and he roared in pain. She pulled the sais free when he dropped her and turned to the sound of Xena's battle cry. The warrior charged from the mist and drove her sword deep into his chest.

The ground rumbled and shifted. Gabrielle grasped Xena's arm for balance and they backed up when a crack appeared and the ground opened up. An unearthly light shone from the open fissure and a column of fire enveloped the Deliverer. As quickly as it appeared, it was gone and the ground was whole again.

The ground shook again and Gabrielle fell into Xena's arms. The mist crept over them like a soft blanket and the next thing they knew, they were screaming as the ground came up to meet them.

Gabrielle fell face first into the dirt and Xena landed in a patch of briars. Groaning, Gabrielle turned her head, spat out the dirt in her mouth and made a face. She glanced over at Xena and started laughing. The warrior remained motionless in the patch of briars, but her fingers deftly pulled away the thorny branches from her leathers. She shot Gabrielle an annoyed look.

"Are you going to help or what?"

 

Epilogue

Xena and Gabrielle enjoyed a robust meal of rabbit stew with bread and fruit. After dinner they sat around the campfire and Gabrielle listened to the rasp of stone against metal. Xena stopped her sharpening of the sword and glanced at her partner.

"What's wrong, Gabrielle?" Xena asked and Gabrielle put down her quill.

"I don't think I should write this. People will think I'm nuts."

"You? You mean we. People will think we're nuts." Xena quipped.

"Maybe they already do." Gabrielle chuckled and then she sobered. "I don't think that's the last we'll hear from Dahak."

"Probably not."

Gabrielle rolled up her scroll, put down her quill and walked up behind her partner. She knelt down, wrapped her arms around Xena's neck and stared up into the sky. Xena put down her stone and sword, and placed her hands over Gabrielle's.

"We will always be together, Gabrielle."

"I know, not even the Gods can separate us." Gabrielle said and Xena turned around, pulling her soul mate into her arms.

"You know, I kind of miss television." Gabrielle abruptly changed the subject and Xena pulled back and looked at her sideways.

"I mean, the things you could watch, such entertainment!" Gabrielle stared into the distance with a smile on her face.

"You want entertainment? I can think of something very entertaining." Xena lifted a dark brow and Gabrielle laughed.

 

The End.


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