Aftershocks (Part 3 of the Alti Returns Trilogy)
By David J. Duncan
Note: The characters from Forever Knight belong to Sony Tri-Star. The characters from Xena Warrior Princess belong to Universal, StudiosUSA, and Renaissance Studios. The characters from "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns" belong to Universal. All other characters are fictious and of my own creation. Please send comments to email@example.com.
Spoiler Alert: "Send in the Clones", "Adventures in the Sin Trade" Parts 1 & 2
Prologue-The Royal Hut, Amazon Lands, c. 82AD
Gabrielle, Bard-Queen of the Amazons writes....
After defeating Alti in Egypt for the second time, we thought that she wouldn't surface for a while. And, for sixty years, this was the case. Then, the shamaness once again popped up in the future time of our friends, David and Angela Dubois, causing them, their allies, and us a great deal of trouble. Somehow, she had managed to duplicate Xena and me to use in her evil scheming and the resulting situation would set off changes for everyone associated with us in that reality....
This is the scroll describing the last battle with Alti, those changes, and the reappearance of the Enforcer, Bertrand du Dijon....
Chapter 1 (Redoing "Send in the Clones"--a junk yard--Brooklyn or Queens? 1998)
Xena toiled over the makeshift forge, grinding away at a piece of scrap steel with the magical grinding device. Sparks flew everywhere as the project took shape. For all of the crap that she had put up since waking up in that strange place, this weird energy had its perks. "Imagine having this power source on my campaigns," she savored. "I would have taken the entire world."
Standing close by her friend, Gabrielle wondered what her friend was up to. Since waking up in the strange white room with those people, one calamity after another had befallen her. And then, that doctor had turned the local warlords on her! What was their name...police? There was something familiar about that woman from the laboratory, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Worse still, the Warrior Princess was starting to reexhibit her darker tendencies. "That's it!" the Bard yelled. "Xena, what are you doing?"
"I'm makin' a weapon," her friend slurred, pulling the device's cord, and holding the sword up in the air. The sun caught it, making it glisten. "Yeah, that looks about right!"
"So, what do we do now?" the poetess probed.
"Lemme think, will ya?" Xena snapped. Ever since she had busted her companion out of the local prison, the blonde had driven her crazy with her endless questions.
Suddenly, a Thunderbird careened around several corners, slamming to a halt about thirty feet from them. The doors opened and out spilled the three groupees who had observed them from the start.
Xena snarled, "Not you three again! Beat it!"
The lab assistants, two women and a man, retreated to a safe haven behind a nearby junk pile. Having watched all of the warrior's exploits on TV, they knew better than to cross her. Worse still, they knew that their boss had infected her with the bad memories of her Conqueror days and that these weren't the original warrior and bard, but rather, clones grown in a laboratory.
Then, the driver's side door slowly eased open and out stepped a tall, husky woman with really intense eyes and long brown hair. Despite her modern trappings, she was known to the two companions almost immediately.
"Alti," Gabrielle stated.
The reincarnated witch stepped up to her and shoved her closer to Xena. "Quiet!" she ordered.
"Yeah, what is it now?" the warrior inquired, sheathing the newly minted blade.
The former shamaness grinned menacingly, "You must remember all of the conquests as well as the thrill of the bloodlust and the spoils. Side with me and it will be yours once again!"
Xena's head swum with images and flashbacks to when she lead her army across the Antique world. Amplified by Alti's urging, the thrill of the advance was overwhelming.
Gabrielle stared into her companion's eyes and pleaded, "Xena, you can't go down that path again after what we've been through!"
At those words, the positive memories flooded across the warrior clone's consciousness. She saw herself fighting evil in all of its forms. Moreover, it was the joy of this voyage which yanked at her heart and soul. For a long minute, the two conflicting forces clashed in her psyche. The warrior held her head and gritted her teeth before letting out a pained wail.
"Xena, are you?" Gabrielle probed.
"Shut up!" the enraged warrior bellowed, backhanding her companion into a nearby heap of scrap.
Alti cackled with satisfaction. This would be worth everything she had put up with from these two. "Finish her!" she advised.
"Yesss!" the Thracian clone hissed and advanced on her friend. Her sword was raised high overhead.
The bard-clone jumped to her feet and raised her scythes just in time to block the fatal sword thrust. For five minutes, the two women matched blow for blow. Then, Xena feinted, causing Gabrielle to overcommit. The former used this opening to slam the other with the knob of her sword handle, dropping her unconscious to the ground.
The warrior stared at her unconscious opponent, once again feeling the warring feelings inside of her head and not knowing what to do next.
"Finish her!" Alti bellowed impatiently.
"Nah," Xena disagreed. "Let the fool live. If she's smart, she'll stay out of our way!"
Alti shook her head furiously. As much as she disagreed, she couldn't risk alienating the clone at this point. "Very well. Come with me."
Xena cautiously climbed into the Thunderbird's passenger seat, not knowing what to expect next. "How does this thing work?" she asked.
"Leave the driving to me," the other woman informed her. "Just sit back." With that, the car took off and sped away from the scene.
For five minutes, the scene was quiet. Then, the three lab assistants emerged from their hiding place, moving close to the fallen Gabrielle.
"Is she...?" the man, a twentish bookworm with glasses and a dark goatee, asked desperately.
"I don't know!" the tall woman wailed, shaking the bard-clone's body. "Gabrielle, wake up!"
The third one, a stalky dark haired woman, poked their creation in the shoulder as well.
Finally, the poetess stirred, "Uhhh...Francesca...Got to...find Francesca...." and slumped to the ground.
The three assistants looked at each other bewilderedly. Who was Francesca?
"Cy...Cybelle...Rogers...Dave...Angie....Somehow...Am...herst, Massachusetts...Cybelle's...there," the bard-clone stammered and lapsed back into unconsciousness.
"Oh...kay!" the tall woman exclaimed. "What do we do?"
"What else?" the shorter woman indicated, pulling out her cellphone. "What's the area code for that city?"
The man flipped through his pocket calendar until he came to the area code map. "Amherst's in western Massachusetts...and the code is 413," he indicated.
"Are you sure?" the tall one disagreed.
"Sure, the university's there," he yelled. "Look..."
"Hold it down," the shorter woman directed. "I've got the operator! Yes! Can I get information for Amherst from you?"
"Certainly, ma'am," the operator told her. "Whose number are you looking for?"
"I need the number for Cybelle Rogers please," she indicated, looking franctically at the unconscious bard. "It's an emergency."
"There's a number for a Matthew and Cybelle Rogers. Shall I put you through for an extra fifty cents?" the representative answered.
"Yes! Thank you!" the woman replied and listened as the connection was made and the dial tone sounded.
The sun shone warmly down on the Rogers home in Amherst. Outside, Matt stood by the grill, watching the chicken grill over the open flame. Inside, his wife, Cybelle sat and talked to her brother, Dave Dubois, his wife, Angie, as well as the former two's cousin, Francesca.
"I'm glad that you could all make it up here for some peace and quiet," the hostess smiled.
"Believe us," Dave sighed. "After that last mission, we needed some time off."
"You can say that again," Angie indicated, rubbing her right temple. A sudden flash of pain coursed through her head.
"Are you okay, Princess?" he asked.
"I...I..don't know. For some reason, there's something going on...with Xena," the oncologist stated.
Then, Francesca grabbed her head, "Arrgh! Mama Mia! What?"
Dave stared at Cybelle. After what they had just been through two days earlier in the Egyptian desert, this was an unwelcome event.
The priestess nodded and ministered to the other two women. "Turn on the television. See if there's anything related to this mess on the air."
He turned on the appliance and immediately saw the media telecast of the carnage in the greater New York metropolitan area. "What in the name of...? Sis, take a look!"
"Goddess preserve us!" she exclaimed. "What could do that?"
"Xena..." Angie sighed. "But, she's still with me, so...."
The siblings looked at each other confusedly. Now what was going on? And how would they get to the bottom of it with Angie and Francesca being in pain?
Then, the phone rang interrupting their thoughts.
Cybelle answered it, "Hello? This had better be important."
"Y...Yes, Ma' am. You don't know me, but my name's Jenny. I'm calling from New York...." the tall girl indicated.
The priestess stared once again at the TV. What was that girl doing calling her in the midst of that battle zone? "How did you get this number? And what are you doing out in that carnage?" she asked.
"Well, a friend asked me to call...you. Here she is...." Jenny continued nervously.
"Cy..Cybelle?" Gabrielle gasped weakly.
The priestess nearly dropped the receiver. Turning back to the couch, she saw Francesca struggling to sit up. "Hang on, my friend. We'll be there shortly."
"Th...Thank you," the bard-clone sighed and slipped back into unconsciousness.
Jenny grabbed the phone again and probed, "So, what do I...?"
"You stay put and keep a careful eye on her. I'll be there shortly," Cybelle instructed, hanging up. Walking over to Francesca, she asked, "How are you doing?"
"Not well," the Italian literature professor indicated. "But...I'll survive. It's Gabrielle. Somehow, she's in pain. But if she's inside of me, then who?"
"Can you get Matt to check on Jonathan, Deirdre, and the twins?" Angie queried.
"Sure....See you in a few minutes," Francesca agreed.
Cybelle ran into the bedroom and changed into her emerald robes. Then, she reemerged into the living room and created a cloud portal. "Come on. The bus is leaving!"
For their part, the Duboises jumped readily into the passageway followed closely by their guide.
"So, what did she say?" the male assistant demanded.
"She'll be here shortly. Whatever that means," Jenny indicated.
"This is too weird," their companion added, rubbing her head. Then, in the corner, she saw smoke rising. "Guys, check out the smoke! What's burning?"
The three stared at the fog forming in their midst on an otherwise clear day. From it, Dave, Angie, and Cybelle stepped onto the scene.
The priestess surveyed the territory and asked, "Where is Jenny?"
The tall girl shuffled forward and nervously stammered, "I...I'm Jenny. Sorry to disturb you, but..."
"Cybelle! Dave! Look, it really is Gabrielle!" Angie exclaimed and rushed over to her friend's side.
From within her head, Xena urged, "Angela, let me speak through you."
The oncologist agreed as she stooped over the bard's body.
Then, through her, Xena's voice asked, "Gabrielle? Are you all right? Who did this?"
The bard squinted. For some reason, she knew this woman leaning over her. But, there was no mistaking the voice. "You did...Xena," she whispered.
Before anyone else could respond to that comment, Dave felt a familiar psychic residue and growled, "Sonnuva! It was her! How the Hell did she get free again?" he snarled. Turning to the confused assistants, he growled, "It was Alti wasn't it?"
"Dave, they're scared enough! Stop it!" Angie, now back in control, told him.
The man replied, "Th..That's all right. Yes, he's right. Somehow, our director is Alti reincarnated."
"But, she's dead!" Cybelle protested. "It can't be!"
"She was here," Dave insisted.
"So, how do you...?" the man asked.
The medievalist snickered, "She didn't touch you, did she? Trust me, once she does, you'll feel it when she's around."
"And she touched you?" Jenny asked.
"She sure did," Dave remembered. "Took a piece of me before I took it back." Turning to his companions, he added, "We need to get back home. I need to talk to Nick and Alyce immediately about this. Not to mention your grandfather, Angie. Alti's going to make tracks there looking for him and the box," he noted.
"Indeed," the priestess agreed. "I will be happy to return you out West. Help me with Gabrielle."
"Sure," Angie agreed. Then, stooping over her friend's form, advised her, "Hang on, Gabrielle."
"Come on!" Cybelle advised, waving her friends on towards the portal.
Dave looked around at their surroundings. Something wasn't right...but now wasn't the time. Rushing for the portal, he joined the ladies inside of the fog.
Cybelle, due to her distraction, slowly began to close the portal. However, before she could finish the task, a breeze blew past them and through the spiritual causeway.
"What in Althanor was that?" she wondered. But, it was gone.
Dave looked around again and tapped his sister's shoulder, "Let's go, Sis. If it's anything, we'll deal with it when we get back to Tucson." With that, he followed his wife into the mists.
The priestess nodded and directed, "You all. Go on and be well. Take care and we'll find Alti." She stepped into the mists and was gone.
The three assistants looked at the spot dumbfoundedly for the better part of twenty minutes. Finally, deciding that they wouldn't be doing any further good there, they left the junkyard and headed back for the city proper....
Chapter 3 (Tucson)
Meantime, the media wave surrounding the events in the Big Apple hit Tucson like a mach truck. Everyone in the Old Pueblo whether at home, at work, or on the road found a TV set or an Internet connection for immediate updates.
At the University precinct, the day shift shook their heads in wonder. While they were grateful that the carnage had not happened there, nobody should have gone through what the folks in New York did.
In his office, Miguel Ramirez shook his head in wonder. While he didn't approve of vigilantism, Xena had seemed to work within the bounds during her time in the Old Pueblo. Why would she go off the deep end now? "I have no choice. I'll have to put out an APB," he realized.
In the bullpen, Don Schanke and Natalie Lebeau sat at the former's computer, studying the updates as they flashed across the screen.
"I can't believe it, Schank," she murmured.
"Neither can I, Natalie," he agreed. "I know she's intense, but to take apart a downtown area like that? If I were putting money on it, I'd say Dave would be the more likely candidate for that dubious honor. Man-o-man, this is going to put us in a bind."
"There's got to be something else to this," the coroner insisted.
Just then, Tracy Brown swooped into her chair across from Schanke and stared at her friends. "I knew this would happen," she muttered.
"Put a lid on it," he advised.
"Why? Didn't I say she was a menace?" the detective recalled. "And everyone told me to be quiet."
"This doesn't make sense. Angie and Dave were nowhere near there," the ME stated. "Before we go making annonouncements, I'm going to get to the bottom of this mess. Coming, Schank?"
"Absolutely," he agreed. "We'll take my car. Let's roll."
"And what do I tell Ramirez?" Tracy inquired incredulously.
"Tell him we're on a case," Natalie yelled back as they left the bullpen, leaving their friend to watch the store and stew in her juices.
Across town, Nick sat on his couch, pensively staring at the television screen in front of him. The destruction and horror sickened him. Who would have done such a thing? Then again, who was capable of such violence? He immediately realized the two candidates-either Xena or his good friend, Dave Dubois, in one of his enraged states. "I hope it's not either of them!" he sighed and took a draught of cow blood from the glass next to him.
Glancing upstairs, the vampire-detective determined not to awaken his elderly guest who napped in the guestroom. Alexander O' Connell, the elderly archaeologist and his longtime friend, was visiting from Britain and getting reacquainted with his granddaughter, Angie, as well as the vampire. "How much water had gone under the bridge since that night?" he wondered.
Then the phone rang. "Miles," he answered.
"Nick, it's Captain Ramirez. Got the TV on?" Ramirez asked.
"I do, Captain. What is going on?" Nick inquired.
"It seems that eyewitnesses have identified the source as Xena. Listen, Miles, I know that you've contacted her in the past. Do you know where she is?" the captain probed.
The detective considered the question for a moment and answered, "No, Captain...not at the moment. I have had contact with her in the past, but we just happened to run into each other."
Ramirez chuckled into the phone. "All right, Detective. I'll buy that for now. If you do happen to run into her, you'll have to bring her in. There's an APB out on her and her friend, the blonde. Comprende?"
"Si," Nick replied and hung up. It was as if his worst fears were being answered. If he or any other TPD officer tried to arrest the Warrior Princess, it would be a blood bath. Worse still, Dave would never allow Angie or Francesca to be brought in without a fight. And in full "Child mode," he doubted that anyone could budge the professor.
"Excuse me, Nicholas?" the elderly archaeologist inquired, shuffling down the stairs. "Whatever is the matter?"
The vampire looked nervously over his shoulder at his friend and lied, "Nothing. Why?"
The old man snickered and continued, "Now, Nick. I know when you're lying to me. Remember when you denied being a vampire? I found out differently, remember?"
"You did indeed," Nick admitted, remembering how as a teenager, his guest had discovered his secret. Fortunately, he had kept it from everyone else.
"Now, what's going on?" the other repeated. Then, he looked at the screen and exclaimed, "My word!" The image of Xena's wrecking a police barricade made him livid. "No, it can't be. She's a good person now! There is no way she would have...."
Nick stared at the other in confusion. Had the professor met the warrior? "You know her?"
"We met back in 1937. She and three companions...let's see...her companion, Gabrielle, a sorceress, and another man. The sorceress was always serene. She could whisk us from place to place with some sort of cloudy portal and worked with herbs and chants. I remember the man as well. Heaven help me, he was a terror! I remember him storming about. He scared Uncle Jon nearly to death and from what Mum and Dad told me, took on a whole army of mummies almost single handedly," Alex recalled.
The detective smiled and stated, "You met Cybelle and Dave then."
"You know them?" his guest interjected.
"Sure. The so-called madman is your granddaughter's husband, David Dubois. The priestess is his sister, Cybelle. They are Lorenzo's grandchildren," the vampire explained. "Of course, that remains a secret."
"Absolutely," Alex agreed. "I owe them all my life. But, in Xena's case, she was always focused and in control. In fact, if I didn't know better...."
"What?" his host asked. "Go on."
"Well," the other continued, fingering the medallion of his necklace. "I would figured that the witch, Alti was behind this, but she's dead. Pray you never run into that one, Nick. She's evil incarnate. I'll be happy when your friend, Alyce, takes this necklace to the museum. Wearing it is getting a little too dangerous for my taste."
The detective shrugged and took another draught from his glass. "I can sympathize. As for Alti, we met about two years ago, she and some of Xena's other foes attacked here. Dave and I confronted her in the library and it wasn't a pretty sight. We defeated them, but for Dave, it's been a fight ever since. I remember her touch making me relive old nightmares."
"I know," his friend shuddered, recalling the attack at Thebes. "Nobody should have to go through that." Glancing at his watch, he noticed that it was almost 9:15. "Has the sun set yet? I would like to talk with Angie and David."
"Absolutely," Nick agreed and stared out the window. The sun had already sunk below the western mountains and the light grew dimmer by the minute. "Let's go. We'll use the Caddy."
FBI Headquarters in San Francisco bustled with activity over the mess in New York. As with their Tucson counterparts, the agents watched the updates, talked on the phones, and were briefed on every detail.
In the midst of this business, Steve Petersen sat at his desk, holding his head in his hands. "Dave, I listened to you....I trusted you. Damn, I had her and I let her go!" he hissed under his breath.
At that moment, his boss, William Monroe, rushed up to the desk and asked, "Excuse me, Agent Petersen?"
"Yes, Sir?" Steve inquired.
"Pack your bags, Son. Since you've dealt with this woman before, I'm giving you this assignment," the superior indicated.
"But, that wasn't direct contact, Sir," Steve indicated. "I saw her...even tried to talk her into giving herself up. But that was it."
Monroe studied the man in front of him. Usually, this agent was really forthright and on the ball...the best of his younger personnel. However, he seemed to be hiding something and, even after two years, the report on that Tucson mess still bugged him. Somehow, Petersen was linked to this Xena person. Accordingly, he felt compelled to give the assignment to the younger man. "You have your orders, Agent Petersen. I've been in contact with the Tucson Police and the Arizona State Police and this time...you will have their full cooperation. Bring that woman in. Understand?" he indicated.
"Yes, Sir," Steve accepted. "I'll be on the 6PM flight tonight."
"Excellent. I'll look forward to you first progress report. Good luck," the superior concluded and hurried away.
LaCroix sat in the radio booth, preparing for his daily Nightcrawler broadcast. For most of the day, he had watched the media circus coming out of the Big Apple. Yes, life was indeed good. The accursed Thracian witch had finally gone berserk; ruining whatever credibility she had built up during her recent adventures. Drinking from the goblet to his left, the former general chuckled, "This is indeed going to be interesting. Whatever will she do now?"
Despite this stroke of fortune, something still bothered him about the situation. While it looked like Xena, fought like Xena, and damaged goods like Xena, she was too maniacal to be the Warrior Princess. "It's almost as if she's under a spell. She hasn't been like this since...Gaul...."
With that, his mind flashed back....
[Eastern Gaul, 65 AD]
An icy cold wind ripped across the plains of eastern Gaul, chilling the soldiers in the Imperial legion stationed there. Men shivered in their shelters as they awaited their orders or their next tour of guard duty.
In his tent, Lucius of Pompeii checked his equipment and uniform. As always, they were in exquisite order. On the eve of his first battle as a general, he was charged with protecting Roman interests against the barbarian incursions. In particular, it was rumored that Xena was in the area with a hastily raised group of allies. The Emperor's orders were clear: protect the border no matter what. While he knew that the Warrior Princess had long abandoned her marauding ways, the leader also recognized that she was still a fierce threat to Imperial security and thus, needed to be dealt with.
Lucius knew he couldn't allow her to advance past his legion. "May the gods give me strength," he muttered.
"You'll need more than that," a strong male voice informed him from behind.
The general turned to see Ares, god of war, observing his preparations. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked.
The raven-haired man grinned. Lucius was the best of the rising military leaders in the Roman pantheon. If he succeeded here, he would achieve fame throughout the Mediterranean world. If he succeeded that is.... "My dear Lucius, are we so overly wrapped in our role that we have gained some humility?" Seeing the other's poorly concealed scowl, he continued, "No, I suppose not. Well, your test rides this way."
"So, she comes, does she?" the general smiled. "She'll find us ready."
Ares laughed hysterically at this statement.
"Did I say something amusing?" the other wondered to himself.
As sudden as the laughing fit started, Ares ceased it, returning his face to its normal grim countenance. "Actually, to say you're prepared for Xena is amusing. You have no idea of what you're up against. Especially since she's riding here under a full head of steam. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind."
"Sow the...?" the imperial leader wondered. Then, it struck him. "The barbarians." His mind flashed back to the battle of the North. At that field, his army slew the main vanguard of the German defenders and looted, pillaged, and destroyed without mercy.
The war god nodded, "Yes, when you butchered those tribes north of the Rhine, you brought her wraith down on Rome itself. But, she'll settle for you. I'd retreat if I were you...." With that, he vanished back into thin air.
"Retreat?" Lucius scoffed. "I think not...." And walked out of the tent to survey his troops one last time before the battle.
Back in the present, LaCroix experienced a brief shudder. Whatever had triggered the outburst on the east coast would affect them in Tucson. Call it the insight of an elder or whatever you'd like, but the former Roman knew that there was more to this situation than readily met the eye. Like it or not, he would have to side with that accursed librarian once again. If not for the sake of the city or his children, there was Livia's safety to consider. And after all, wasn't family always the most important thing in the world?
Meanwhile, Cybelle's portal opened within the Duboises' apartment, allowing Dave, Angie, Francesca, and the priestess to carrying their injured friend to the guest room. Gabrielle could barely keep her eyes open.
"Xena....Gotta find...Xena," the Bard-clone murmured. "Can't leave her...with...Alti...."
"Rest, Gabrielle," Angie advised. "As your doctor, I'm telling you to lie still."
Francesca clasped the Potadeian's hand firmly and turned to her cousin. "Angie, if there's anything I can do..."
"Thanks, but she'll live," the oncologist assured the other woman. "Still, that's a nasty bruise. Now, to calm her nerves." Reaching over her shoulder, she drew the sword and changed into the Warrior Princess.
"Gabrielle, I'm here," she declared.
"Xena? You're here....I knew Alti couldn't keep us...apart," the Bard-clone smiled.
"That's right. She can't. Rest now," Xena told her.
"Xena, that was...Angela, wasn't it?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Right," the warrior agreed.
Then, the poetess turned her head. "Francesca. Thank you."
The literature professor embraced her friend. "I owe you my life. It's me that should be thanking you."
Just then, a knock came from the front door.
"Let me get it," Dave stated. "Cybelle, can you bring the girls back here? Xena, stay here with Gabrielle until I give you the all-clear sign."
"Right," the warrior agreed.
The professor hustled out of the room, closing the door behind him. Rushing across the room, he asked, "Who is it?"
"Dave, it's Natalie and Schanke," Natalie answered. "Please let us in."
"Sure," Dave agreed and opened the door. "Come in quickly."
The detective and coroner hurried inside. A quick look around the room told the newcomers that everything seemed in order. "So, where are they?" Schanke asked.
"In the guest room. Xena and Francesca are tending to Gabrielle," Dave explained.
Natalie scratched her head confusedly, "Wait a minute! Did you say that Francesca and Gabrielle were in the room at the same time? That's not possible."
"Up until an hour ago, I would have agreed with you. Unless it's back in ancient Greece, it shouldn't be possible," their host mentioned.
"So how?" Schanke inquired.
"We're not sure," Xena noted, walking into the room. "Francesca and Gabrielle are still in the same body."
"How's Gabrielle?" the coroner inquired.
"She took a hard blow to the head and claims that I gave it to her," the warrior related. "Angela, David, and Francesca found her in New York. Until then, we were in Massachusetts."
"At Cybelle's house," Dave collaborated.
"Then how...?" the detective persisted, rushing over to the guest room door. "Coming in!" he said, opening it.
"Stand back!" Gabrielle's voice commanded.
Schanke stood speechless at the sight in front of him. On the bed, Gabrielle lay resting with a poultice on her brow. Yet, somehow, the Bard also advanced on him with her staff raised to do battle. "Hey! It's okay! Xena, tell her!" he yelled.
"Gabrielle, that's enough," the warrior advised.
"Fine," the poetess relented. "Sorry, she's been through enough."
"So, how?" Natalie probed. "This is amazing!"
"It's almost as if they were cloned. So, if there are two Gabrielles...." Dave started.
"Then, there are two mes as well," Xena completed the thought. "And the other one's with Alti."
"Man-o-man! So, your evil twin is the one who destroyed a good portion of the Big Apple! Wow! But, who's gonna believe it? Geez....I'm not sure I completely believe it." the confused detective gaped.
"We'll have to get both of them together," Dave realized.
"Well, do we ask her nicely to come out?" the ME probed.
"No, she'll come to us," Xena stated. "We still have the chest and the necklace."
"Meaning what?" Schanke asked, still not getting the point.
"Meaning those are the things they took from her back in Egypt," Natalie told him. "After they came back, they had the items with them."
"Her ashes are in the chest and the necklace can stop her. And they're at the museum," Dave noted. "We'll have to tell Alyce to be ready for anything."
At that moment, another knock came from the door.
"Now, who is it?" the professor wondered, the irritation starting to seep into his voice.
"Calm down, David," Xena directed. "Come on, Gabrielle. Let's conceal ourselves for now."
The Bard agreed and followed the warrior's lead into the back room.
Dave walked over to the door and did a psychic sweep. The cold spot on the other side of the door told him that it was Nick. The other presence was that of an elderly man--Grandfather O' Connell. "Great, Nick...can you both come in quickly?" he asked his friend, opening the door.
The vampire detective nodded and guided the elderly archaeologist through the door. After closing it, he turned back to his friend and asked, "Dave, what's going on?"
"Confused? Hell, welcome to the Club!" Dave shook his head. "We have two Xenas and two Gabrielles running around. And, oh yeah, Alti's back...just to make sure that life doesn't get too boring."
"The witch is back?" Alex gasped.
"Not exactly," Xena proclaimed from the back room, opening the door and sticking her head out. "By the way, Nicholas, it's really me."
"She's been with me all day," Dave added. "Watching Alti and her double rip apart New York."
"You want proof? Look in the bedroom, Nick," Schanke indicated.
The former Crusader followed his friend's suggestion and discovered the two Gabrielles within the chamber. "Amazing! There are two of you. But how?" he demanded.
The injured Bard-clone forced her eyes open. "N...Nick...I don't know...Ever since Xena and I awoke in that room with all of the strange metal things, we've been chased and hounded," she complained.
"Were the metal things whirring and have lights? Did you have sticky stuff on you?" Natalie asked.
"Yes, the things were like that. And we had these circular pads on us with string-like things coming out of them," the wounded woman replied. "Also, there were these hard clear coverings...." With that, she lapsed back to sleep.
"So, what do we do?" Alex probed.
Nick nervously glanced out the window. Somewhere out there, the various police agencies were marshalling their forces in preparation for their pursuit of his friends. As one who had often run from the authorities, he had acquired a sense of descretion. Soon, they would have to find a way to clear the warrior companions and defeat the shamaness.
"Hey, Nick, what's up?" Natalie inquired. "You're brooding again...."
"Oh, I'm just thinking of all of the times I had to run from the law over the centuries," he replied.
The coroner pondered his point for a minute. He had definitely had to start and drop enough lives over the course of time. And, how many times had LaCroix framed him in the process? Somehow, he had to find a cure and become mortal so that his life on the run would end. Then, her mind snapped back to the matter at hand. "Sorry. So, what do we do now?"
"We have to keep clear of our cohorts until everything comes together. At least, keep Xena and Gabrielle hidden," the vampire detective stated.
"She can stay here or with me," she agreed. "Hopefully, she'll be feeling better by tomorrow."
"Nick," Alex pointed out. "The exhibition doesn't start for another three days! How are we going to keep them hidden until then?"
"Yeah, that's a good point," Schanke piped in. "Besides, both Tracy and Ramirez are going to be expecting answers. And then, there's the FBI...."
"FBI?" Nick jumped. "When were they called in?"
"Ramirez was on the phone with them today. Since it's a national case, they're taking over," his souvlaki-loving friend indicated.
"Which means that they'll send the agent with the most familiarity...Steve," Dave frowned. "And I asked him to trust me about Xena. Somehow, we have to convince him."
"When Cybelle gets back, I'll ask her to take me and Gabrielle to Althanor," the Warrior Princess suggested. "Since he knows about me and Angela, Steve will check all of my...er...Angela's spots. Trust me, it's the only way. I'll let her call her superior and let him know."
Dave nodded. While he didn't like letting Angie out of his sight during a time like this, it was the only way that the situation would work.
Meantime, the evening seemed peaceful and serene. But to everyone inside of the apartment, it was the calm before the storm.
Night cloaked the city of Toronto. Even as the city bustled with activity, the waterfront area lay dormant allowing for people to come and go as they pleased.
Within the gloom, Alti sulked moodily. Ever since receiving word from the anonymous source, she and the clone had kept a close eye on things. Glancing at the Xena-clone brought a smile to her face. Yes, duplicating the Warrior Princess had been a stroke of genius, and watching her carve a bloody swath through New York thrilled her to no end. If only she had the power from her previous incarnation, she would have gained power incarnate. Now, she could only play the part of the warrior. For most, her ability would have been an enviable role. However, for someone who had known the ways of the shamaness, this state was a reduction in status.
Then, from the shadows, a hoarse voice called, "You are the one they call Alti?"
The witch turned and replied, "I am. You are the one who contacted me?"
"I represent the group who did so. Now, come," the figure beckoned.
"If you're lying," she warned.
"Why would I lie? My companions and I went through a lot of trouble to contact you. Trust me, once you hear what we have to say, I think you'll want to work with us," the figure responded. "Is your friend with you?"
"She is," the former shamaness indicated, pointing to the cloaked figure behind her.
"Very well. This way," the guide advised, holding the door open behind him. "Come, they are waiting for you both."
The two women followed closely behind the representative. Alti felt an icy breeze and sensed several "cold" spots of a similar nature to what she had sensed in Arizona around the detective, Miles, and the Roman, LaCroix. After several twists and turns, the group entered an open chamber. At the room's center, several more people sat around an oak table. Off in the far corner, another man stood mysteriously aloof, shrouded in the shadows.
The man or what seemed like a man sitting at the table's head greeted, "Welcome and thank you for accepting our invitation."
"And what do you want?" Alti snapped.
"Your help with our common adversaries. Certainly you are acquainted with the Warrior Princess and her allies?" the red-haired female sitting halfway between the table's ends probed.
"I've known Xena for many millenia. As for the blonde, the Duboises, and the priestess, I have endured their presence," Alti hissed.
"And their vampire allies?" the negro male inquired.
"If you mean the detective and his master, yes. I would relish the opportunity to avenge myself on them. Unfortunately, I have lost much of my power," the witch commented tersely.
"You mean the abilities you held in your previous incarnation?" the leader posed. Pointing his remote control at the TV and VCR to his right, he started the video files. The screen replayed the battle at the library.
"Where did you get this?" Alti demanded.
"We have our sources," the leader informed her cryptically. "And would you like your power back?"
Alti snickered incredulously, "And you can do that? My body was reduced to ashes!"
"Yes, the remains were recently brought back to the University of Arizona a few days ago along with a certain necklace. The fools brought them together once more," he continued.
"Would you reclaim them?" the shadowy observer baited, stepping into the light. Bertrand du Dijon had watched the debate with interest up to that point. Now, he wished to test this woman.
"Of course!" she insisted. "And, you would help me, I suppose?"
"As long as you keep your end of the bargain," the Burgundian stated. "Which is to take out those accursed mortals once you're back in your proper state. Once we're finished, you are to keep the secret of our community safe."
"And their vampire allies?" Alti pushed.
An Asiatic member at the table indicated, "If you deal with the Duboises and their allies, we will deal with Brabant, Lucius, deCharme, and Hunter."
"Of course, if you can defeat Dubois, I'd like to see it," Dijon scoffed. "He has cost me several of my best Enforcers. Beat him if you wish. Take his power if you can get it. However, I get to kill him!" His eyes glowed with a blazing anger.
The witch nodded. Yes, these allies would prove far more useful than the last bunch she had teamed with. "Very well. Meet my ally." She signalled to the cloaked figure.
Taking off her robes, the Xena clone revealed herself to the group and set off a level of consternation around the room.
Dijon tensed and spat, "You...would bring HER here? I will kill you myself!"
"If you can," the witch laughed. "Relax, she's a clone of the original Xena. A creation of mine."
"A clone?" the redhead asked.
"Yes, I grew her myself," Alti bragged. "However, I learned that the police destroyed my equipment...."
The leader, for his part, admired the woman's handiwork. Yes, having Xena, even a copy, was a sizeable advantage. And if they could bring Alti back to her full power, they might just succeed. "This definitely has possibilities."
"I don't like it," the Burgundian snorted. "But, I'll go along with it!"
"In the meantime," the leader chuckled. "How would you like to guest lecture on the next day?" He held up a folder.
Alti took the file and read through it. There was enough documentation in it to choke a horse. And it seemed that there was an opportunity to speak on shamanism in the ancient Steppe. How ironic indeed. "And you can arrange this?" she asked.
"We already have," the Asiatic female replied. "We will strike in three days. Is that satisfactory?"
"Very satisfactory," Alti cackled and looked at Dijon with a sarcastic air. "Very satisfactory indeed."
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