The Die is Caste
David J. Duncan
Note 1: The usual disclaimers & such...All characters from Xena Warrior Princess belong to Renaissance Studios and StudiosUSA. The other characters are fictious and are of my own creation.
Note 2: This story takes place after "Aftershocks" in the Dubois Chronicles.
Spoilers: FIN I & II, Paths of Vengeance, To Helicon and Back, Forgiven, and I'm sure there are others....
Archiving? : Sure, just send me an email to let me know so I can link to your site.
Comments: Send 'em to email@example.com
Prologue (Gabrielle's hut, Amazon Village c.82 AD)
In the days following our return from Egypt, a great deal occurred both here and in the future. This scroll deals with the setting up of the new Amazon governing structure, more new faces, and old friends returning to serve in new roles.
Chapter 1 (The village)
The early mornings in the summer provided a refreshing time to reflect on events. The night air still hung heavily. The morning dew left a silvery sheen on the grass, leaving it cool to the touch. Only the faintest traces of pinks and yellows could be seen in the eastern sky. The insects still whistled their sing-song calls in the forest.
Varia sat on the steps outside of her hut, pondering all of these things. Not long before, she had been the queen of this place. But, that was before she had committed a series of miscalculations and listened to the wrong people and misinterpreted her instincts. As a result of the disaster at Helicon, she was stripped of her rank and very nearly her life. Only with the intervention of Xena and Gabrielle was she able to maintain any dignity at all around the other Amazons. Even after being included in the coronation ceremonies and the governing council, she was still perplexed by her successor's mercy.
"Why is she being so kind?" she wondered to the empty night.
"Because everyone makes mistakes, Varia," a familiar deep voice replied from the darkness.
The Amazon jumped into her fighting stance and challenged, "Come out and be recognized!"
"Settle down. You're going to wake everyone up," Xena advised, stepping into the light. "Couldn't sleep either?"
"No, that seems to be in short supply these days," her friend stated. "I've got a lot on my mind."
"You mean you're still beating yourself up over the incidents with Ares and Helicon. Get over it. Look, Varia, you had your heart in the right place on both counts. I may not agree with your actions especially toward Eve and Gabrielle, but your intentions were good," the Warrior Princess assured.
"Really? You think everyone's forgiven me? I don't know if I can forgive myself," Varia sighed.
"Give it time," the warrior interjected. "You have already started redeeming yourself. Anybody could have hung her head and quit. You, however, played a key role right away and keep doing so. Redemption is not an overnight process, trust me."
"I guess you would know," the other agreed. "And how are you doing these days?"
"I'm okay. Just getting used to this being settled down stuff, I guess," Xena replied.
"Yeah, I guess it would be tough with as much traveling as you and Gabrielle did over these last few years to settle down. But, having a home is nice," the Amazon noted.
"That it is," Xena agreed. "Still..."
"You wish that Eve were here, don't you?"
The Thracian warrior glanced over at her acquaintance. "It's that obvious, huh?"
"Everyone who's been a mother would understand, Xena. Besides, after seeing the change that Eve has undergone, I can see why you would be proud of her."
"I am proud," Xena beamed. "She's out preaching and standing up for her beliefs. While I may not like the fact that she always seems to be in harm's way, I can't stop her from doing so."
"Well, as long as she's taking villages with words and not the sword," Varia shrugged.
"Right," the warrior agreed. "Well, looks like the sun's rising. We have a big day in the council so maybe we ought to get some breakfast?"
"Sounds good," the Amazon concurred, following her friend back toward the middle of the village
Three hours later, Gabrielle sat cross-legged on a hide mat, studying a scroll of law codes. Unlike her stories which she enjoyed, these pieces were tedious as Tartarus to drudge through. But, if she was going to guide the Amazons to a new golden age, the Queen decided that she had to do it. After all, she needed to learn all of these things very quickly in order to lead effectively. "What would Francesca say right now? She and David have a term for this activity. What is it?"
"It's called 'cramming', Gabrielle," Xena snickered as she entered the hut. "At least that's what Angela calls it."
"Whatever," the bard huffed, skimming the thick prose. "There's so much here."
"And you'll learn it all in time," her friend assured her. "Remember, nothing worthwhile was built in a day."
The queen chuckled, "Isn't the saying 'Rome wasn't built in a day'?"
The warrior shrugged and continued, "Yeah, maybe. But, who thinks that Rome is worthwhile?"
"Right. I noticed that you left early this morning. Something troubling you?"
"Nah, not really," the warrior downplayed her feelings.
"Eve?" the leader probed.
Xena shook her head and ranted, "Is it that obvious?"
"Uh huh," her friend told her. "So, what have you been up to?"
"I ran into Varia and talked to her for a bit. I had to set her straight on a few things," the warrior revealed.
"Like what?" Gabrielle asked anxiously.
"Helicon and other things," the warrior replied.
The bard-queen looked her friend in the eye and stated, "By targeting me, she betrayed the sisterhood. Granted, she's been making progress, but..."
"But what?" Xena interrupted.
"But, it's going to take time. You can't just expect people to just start trusting you on a whim," the poetess protested.
"A wise woman once told me that 'You can't believe in yourself unless someone else believes in you first'," the warrior quoted.
Gabrielle shrugged, "Yes, okay, that is true and...you're right. But, it's going to take time."
"That's what I told her. But, it does seem like everyone's giving her a legitimate chance," the Warrior Princess observed.
"And if I have anything to say about it, that will continue," the bard-queen agreed. Picking up the scroll again, she asked, changing the subject, "Xena, do you think there's any chance of Eve coming back here?"
The warrior bit her lip and shook her head, "Unless Eli himself intervenes, I would say no. She's pretty set in her ministry."
"I thought as much myself. When the three of us rode up here, I hoped that she would have stayed and taken her role as the Amazon princess," the queen commented.
"Believe me, you know how much I wish she were here. But, Gabrielle, she still has work to do in the world. You were a princess for how many years before we came back here for good?" Xena indicated.
"Thirty years," the bard agreed.
"Right. We still had our roles to play in the world. I'm just asking to let Eve play hers. Okay?" her councilor continued.
"Sure. Just like us, right?" Gabrielle smiled. "You had better hope that the Council agrees with you, Xena. I have to have an heir and since I gave her the rite of caste, she is it."
"You know I'll defend Eve's rights," the warrior firmly stated.
"And I don't think any of the Amazons would oppose you. I just want to make sure there's an orderly succession from here on out is all. Now, come, we're needed at the meeting," the bard-queen concluded, walking out of the hut.
Xena looked up at the hut's ceiling. Where there seemed to be peace, now a certain measure of controversy stirred anew and Eve was at its center. "Eli, take care of my daughter please," she requested before hurrying to join her colleagues at the meeting.
The Amazon council anxiously awaited their queen. In the three months since her return, several accords had been sealed with surrounding peoples and the tribes had indeed moved toward becoming a single nation. All in all, the new reign had begun auspiciously well. Now, the little questions remained...such as Eve's status, but as they had waited for Gabrielle's arrival, the same could be done for her caste-recipient as well. However, the resident mystic, Nai-Jin, had seen dark visions during her meditations. This was something which could not be ignored.
As Xena and Gabrielle entered the room, the other leaders stood and welcomed them solemnly.
"As always, you have my thanks," the bard-queen smiled to her colleagues. "Memosia, you summoned us together. What can we do for you?"
The African leader stood and smiled, "Thank you, Queen Gabrielle. It has to do with the unsettling visions."
"Visions?" Gabrielle asked. "Whose visions?"
"Those of Nai-Jin," the other replied, sweeping her hand toward the Oriental mystic.
"Might I be recognized, my Queen?" the mystic inquired.
Gabrielle bit her lip. During their adventure in Egypt, Yakut and Amarice had warned of an imminent invasion. But, it wasn't supposed to happen this soon! "I thought it was supposed to be three years from now," she thought. Glancing at her chief counsel, her eyes asked for advice.
Xena, for her part, knew the value of prophecy. Over the years, she had seen many such premonitions come true-too many for her liking. Between Alti, Yakut, Lao Ma, and David Dubois, several such occurrences had happened. Hopefully, this one wouldn't be so bad. "I say we hear her out," she replied.
The queen nodded and turned toward the Asian Amazon again. "Please tell us what you saw, Nai-Jin," she requested.
The other nodded and recounted, "It was brutal, my Queen. The peace will be shattered by a series of battles both here and elsewhere. One confrontation has passed between the forces of light and darkness. I see an oasis in the desert with...great structures...some of stone and some of wood. What could this place be?"
"It is a place of learning far across the sea," Gabrielle revealed. "Alti and her allies sparked that conflict."
"Is this true, Xena?" Cyanne, the queen of the northern Amazons asked.
"Yeah. After the conflict, our friend, David Dubois, was challenged to a duel sometime in the future. Did you see anything?" the Warrior Princess asked.
The mystic nodded, "Is he the dark haired one with the extreme fire within?"
"That's him all right," the warrior agreed. "Please continue."
"The battle will occur. I saw a luminous being handing him a dagger of some sort. The confrontation was brutal. Both sides were injured..." the mystic continued.
"This 'luminous being' can you describe him?" Gabrielle probed.
"He was dressed in white with blonde hair, a regal bearing, and wings of some sort. What manner of demon would that be?" Nai-Jin noted.
"That would be an archangel," the high queen stated. "I think it has to be Michael. Anyhow, please continue."
"The two adversaries met in a place of cobblestones not far from here. One dies. The other is thrown into a place...of fiery torment. The suffering is intense. There are familiar enemies for him to engage and with each victory comes a greater cost for the world," the seeress continued.
"What is the cause of the conflict?" Memosia interjected.
"A wrong committed by an immortal years before. I can't make out the details yet I sensed that it is tied to Xena and Gabrielle," she commented.
"A wrong connected to us?" the bard-queen gasped. "What could we have done to him?"
"Maybe it's not us personally, Gabrielle. Maybe, it's someone that we have fought as well," Xena postulated. "Dijon maybe?"
"Dijon?" Cyanne wondered. "Who?"
"A vampire of the worst kind," Gabrielle explained. "He is one of a special order who enforces his kind's secrecy."
"I've killed several of his kind already," Xena added. "But, this one is the chief Enforcer and apparently is responsible for the death of several innocent people."
"Including a priestess of Althanor," the seeress realized.
"What?" Gabrielle jumped to her feet. "But Cybelle is alive!"
"No, not the woman in green. There is another. She was joined with a man from the West, and there she died. Her name was...Sam...Samuelsohn?"
"Pauline Samuelsohn," Xena affirmed.
"That's right," the prophetess nodded.
"How?" Gabrielle asked.
"Angela told me about it. At least as much as anyone has been able to piece together. Apparently, Pauline and her husband helped to stabilize David during his learning. Dijon murdered her just before he and David faced each other for the first time. It was on that night that the Child surfaced," the warrior explained.
"The inner fire," the mystic agreed. "Yes."
"So, what else happens?" Varia urged.
"He progresses through the underworld with a guide whom I can't see clearly. He will return here...with another soul. However, in the process, he will unleash great turmoil upon the world. Darkness will erupt, forcing us to join with our allies both old and new to defeat it. There will be a single battle involving your friend and a woman, long thought dead, in which our village will be destroyed. There the vision ends," the visionary concluded. "Two more things. Seek out Althanor and ask for assistance. An alliance between us will be necessary. And the heiress must return," Nai-Jin concluded.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and pondered this report for a long minute. Certainly, David's rages had the potential to be viciously destructive. In one battle, a town's center had been badly damaged. Would he have the lack of foresight to cause such destruction? Only time would tell. In addition, it was clear from the last part that Eve had to come back to help them survive the conflict. "This is very serious," she noted. "Thank you for sharing your insight, Nai-Jin. I open the floor for discussion."
"We have to prevent your friend from facing this Dijon," Cyanne stated.
"He's only a man. Certainly, he can't cause the damage she talked about on his own," Varia scoffed.
Xena chuckled darkly.
"What's so funny, Xena?" the former queen demanded. "This is a serious matter. We may have to kill him."
"That's enough!" Gabrielle interrupted.
"No, it's okay," Xena frowned. "Varia, you have no idea what you're talking about. Murdering him will accomplish zilch. If Michael's involved, then he's gonna prey on David's anger toward Dijon. Besides, by killing the priestess, Dijon set these forces in motion himself."
"And, whether it's her friend or someone else, the battle will take place. It has been foretold and there is nothing that we can do," Nai-Jin added.
"Then," Cyanne stated. "We must prepare for the worst. Queen Gabrielle, Xena, will you be there?"
"Yeah, we'll be there," Xena asserted. "I wanna make sure there's no funny business."
"Meantime, I think Cyanne is right," Gabrielle pointed out. "Each of you might wish to start preparing your tribes for a possible conflict. Let us pray that it doesn't come to pass, but in case it does, we should be ready. I think that's all for now." With that, she rose from her place and left the room.
Xena stood silently for a minute. Her icy blue eyes studied each of her companions and saw the concern and fear. Gabrielle had been right to dismiss the council for now, allowing everyone to think on these matters. Certainly, she had a great deal to consider herself. "Best to talk with her later on these things," she mused and walked out of the room, leaving the others to ponder the future for themselves.
Chapter 3 [Althanor]
Within the mists, the realm of Althanor lay silent and serene. For the most part, everyone was going about their business as always. Herb lore was recited by the young priestess trainees. Chores were performed routinely. In short, it seemed like any other day.
However, within her hut, the high priestess sat anxiously, trying to deal with the news she had just received from the worlds beyond. According to Cybelle, the herbs she had sent to her brother had helped to defeat Alti. Yet, there was another crisis to deal with: the upcoming battle between David Dubois and the vampire, Bertrand du Dijon. How she wished it could be prevented, but as the fiery pool had revealed it, she knew that Fate would bring the two antagonists together at one point or another. Certainly, the battle had been ordained since the latter's murder of the priestess, Pauline, some years before. Perhaps, there might be some good to this mess after all.
Cybelle sat off to one side, observing her superior carefully. The news of the battle had brought a troubled silence to the venerable priestess, and the younger woman was concerned about what would happen next. "Mother? Are you all right?" she inquired nervously.
"Hmm?" the elderly woman replied absently, "Oh. Cybelle, I'm sorry. Yes, I'm fine, Child. This news, however, has drastic consequences for us all."
"What is it?" the younger priestess pushed. "The battle is behind us. That challenge can't be that serious, can it?"
"It is," the high priestess indicated. "Tell me....what do you know about the death of Tony and Pauline Samuelsohn?"
Cybelle shot her a perplexed look and wondered, "I know he was one of Dave's professors and they were really close. I'm sorry to say that I never met her."
The priestess snickered, "You did, Child. You just don't remember it. Do you recall the night of your initiation? How much do you remember of your sponsor?"
The younger woman scratched her head and shrugged, "Not too much I'm afraid. I remember she was so kind to me all of that day and then, after the initiation, she disappeared." Then it dawned on her. "That was Pauline?"
"It was she. On the next day, she left to be married as per the Great Mother's wishes. Tony Samuelsohn was an ally of ours in the world outside and kept the Old Ways in a positive manner at least in academic circles. He received her lessons in the lore of Althanor as did another young man. I gave her leave to console that man and instruct him in the traditional knowledge. She did so and he seemed to improve in so many ways," the mentor continued. "At least until that awful night."
"What do you mean? What happened to them?" Cybelle insisted.
"I...I cannot find the words. Let the mists reveal what I cannot," the teacher noted, waving her hands. The fog formed in a far corner of the room. "Go into the past, Cybelle. Don't worry, they will not be able to see you."
The younger priestess bit her lip. As much as she didn't want to go, she had no choice. She had to find out what happened. "I'll be back," she acknowledged.
"The goddess help you, Child, and enable you to bear that which lies on the other side," the elderly woman hoped.
Cybelle stepped out of the cloudbank into a familiar suburban neighborhood of the late 1980s. The night was warm with a mass of clouds forming in the northwest. "This is Cambridge," she realized. "But, what am I doing here?" The name on the mailbox gave her the answer to that question. "This is the Samuelsohns' house. I know something happened here, but what's going on?" she wondered aloud. The air was negatively charged as if something was about to happen.
Then, an awful scream shattered the silence. "Tony! Help me!" a woman begged with her last breath.
Cybelle winced and grit her teeth as the spasms of pain coursed through her head and down her spine. For a minute, she felt as if all of her blood was being sucked away. Then, there was no feeling at all. "Pauline," she realized. "She's gone." The priestess bowed her head in memory of her fallen sister, wishing that there was something she could have done.
Then, she heard the pained yelling of a man: Tony Samuelsohn. Something had broken into that house and was torturing the poor professor.
"What in Althanor?" she probed, running up the walk and through the open doorway. There, she encountered a room full of strewn debris, torn-up tapestries, mangled books, and desk drawers thrown every which way. Sticking her head in the front room, she found Samuelsohn being attacked by three powerful men or what seemed like men. A scan of the figures' auras told her who they were. "Vampires! But what would bring a Caribbean, a European, and an Oriental together like this?"
The European, a French or German man by appearance, stood tall and was a mountain of a man. Leaning over, he stated to his victim. "You should have left well-enough alone. Now, you'll die." Before he could strike the killing blow, he sensed something. "Wu Han! Deal with it!"
The Oriental bowed and flew through the broken remains of the picture window.
She felt a familiar twinge through her senses and realized, "Dave! He's here? What is he doing?" Seeing that she couldn't do any further good in there, she rushed back outside. There she saw the Asian vampire beating on her brother.
"Stop it! You don't want to do that!" she screamed, knowing what was about to happen.
For a split second, the attacker paused and glanced around as if he felt her presence. But, not finding anything, smacked the younger man again.
"Parents should have taught brat respect," Wu Han informed his victim.
At that moment, Cybelle recoiled as Dave looked up.
Through the bruises and swelling, she saw the now familiar glint in the left eye. But this time, he was growling with short rasping breaths. "Free! I'm free at last!" Climbing to his feet, the enraged man let loose a howl which would have intimidated the banshees themselves and blasted his former attacker across the lawn into the house. "Oh, I wish my father were watching right now. Whatever should I do with you?"
She puzzled, "Why would he wish for Dad now? They never..." Her eyes bulged as she realized his dark intent.
Telekinetically, lifting two of the wooden shards, he impaled the Oriental man. Worse still, Dave seemed to enjoy this act. Leaving him there, he stalked into the house and disappeared from view.
Cybelle stole up to the disintegrating corpse and shuddered as the implications of the scene in front of her became clear. Dave's moods were unpredictable especially when he was agitated. Both of their parents had been really hard on him. As a result, periodic lapses had occurred from time to time. But, she sensed something totally different this time. The darkness inside of him had finally accomplished what everyone feared it would: it had coalesced into a separate personality capable of mass destruction.
Then, from within the house, she felt another burst of dark energy and the reduction of the immortals' auras by one more. "Dave 2, Vampires 0," she sighed and ran back in the house. The Caribbean vampire leaned against the banister of the staircase, a stake rammed through his chest. Hurrying into the study, she saw the leader facing Dave. The latter flung the immortal against the fireplace, setting the vampire's arm on fire.
The vampire tore the sleeve from his shirt and tensed to attack. But, as he did so, police sirens alerted both combatants to the approaching authorities. "This isn't over!" he hissed and disappeared into the night.
Dave frantically scoured the room, throwing as many antique tomes and scrolls out onto the lawn as he could. Finally, seeing that the flames had claimed the rest, he managed to drag both of the victims from the house.
Cybelle floated to her brother's side. A tear creased her left cheek. How she wished she could have comforted him at that moment as he leaned over the bodies of his mentor and his wife. At that moment, the skies opened up and a full-fledged thunderstorm raged.
"Dijon! This isn't over!" he vowed to the tempest. Then, as if sensing something, he raised his hands to the night and fired two mental bolts.
In response, the storm reeled off a pair of lightning strikes.
The two forces impacted, canceling each other out.
Shuddering, the priestess retreated back to the tree. This was the beginning of the conflict to come. Noting the police's arrival, she stepped back through the mist and returned to Althanor.
When the mists had cleared, she was back in the high priestess' hut.
"Now you have seen. Now you understand what has happened and what must happen next," the mentor stated.
"I...I have," the shaken Cybelle agreed. "They must face each other again and I cannot do anything about it. I wish I could be there."
"You will be. Pauline was to be my successor. When she died, that right passed to her sponsored one. You are now the next in line, Cybelle, and your time is coming. Soon, I will pass from this life and the fate of everything will be in your hands," the elderly teacher revealed.
"But, I have my husband and son. Mother, you...you can't be serious," she gaped in shock.
"The world depends upon you, Child. Althanor and the Amazons. Our peoples must unite. By now, Gabrielle has taken the throne as their queen. It is up to you two to forge a peace from which the world will rebloom after the conflict to come," the old woman coughed.
"And who will be my heir. When will I meet her?" Cybelle pressed. "I have no daughter of my own."
"Help me to bed please," the ancient one requested.
Cybelle assisted her teacher over to the simple cot and lowered her into it. Making sure that the latter was resting comfortably, the young woman felt as if a heavy weight had been placed on her shoulders.
From her sleep, the high priestess muttered, "It will be the youngest daughter of your brother's house."
"Deirdre?" the other asked.
The sleeping form nodded and then, turned away from her student.
Cybelle stepped outside of the hut. While the sun was shining and everything seemed to be normal on the outside, her world had just been turned upside down and, for some reason, she sensed that things would only get worse before they improved for her and her friends and family.
Onto the next part