High above the world where neither man, woman, nor creature could dwell, where only angels and spirits reside, stood such a being watching studying...wondering and worrying. Knowing that his actions would cause problems with Nature, he had taken that chance and had found out exactly what he feared would happen.
Nature was dying. Eli observed all of this from his place in heaven. Sadness filled his discarnate self as Nature wept and writhed in the agony the imbalance caused her. The best Eli could do for her was to try and sooth it during her pain, for his purpose was far too great to stop now. It didnt ease the sorrow he felt for Nature. His mind whispered another compassionate reassurance. As he sent energy to strengthen Her, she continued her battle. I promise it will be over soon, my friend. Please try to stay strong. In reply he felt the determination from Nature. She understood why Eli was putting her through this misery and was willing to help for as long as she could.
From behind, another being moved toward Eli. Each of the spiritual beings felt the others presence before they stood next to each other. "Hello Michael."
The Archangel Michael returned Elis greeting and then connected himself to Nature as well. He too was overwhelmed by the anguish she felt and quickly severed the contact. "I have to talk to you Eli."
Eli nodded his head, already knowing what was coming. "I know."
Michael paused for a second with a stern look upon his face. "I have been talking with the Creator, and we think this has gone too far. Nature has suffered more than she should."
"But I am giving her strength as is Demeter. Nature and I have been communing and she is willing to go as far as she must."
The archangel shook his head. "She is suffering far too much. When you came to us, your soul was more powerful than we could have imagined. You were considered an infinite soul. The Creator allowed for you to choose what you wanted to do with that power."
"And I did choose, Michael. I chose to watch over the worlds .all of them."
"Yes you did. And we know you favor a certain pair of souls. We understand that. Xena and Gabrielle are incredible spirits, they broke some rules we never thought possible."
Elis tone changed to almost irritation, but he remained calm. "Then you must understand why I am doing this."
"Eli, you must let the worlds play out as they will. Gabrielle died in that single world, it is true. But that same fate awaits her in this particular world as well. Granted they are the only two that she dies in, but it is the way of things."
"It was a mistake! I wasnt watching as I should have been. I was new to my job and I somehow missed what was to come. She should never have died! It wasnt her fate and I wont allow it to happen again!"
Michael stepped closer to Eli, his being giving off a stubbornness and steadfastness. "You must. This is how it is supposed to play out!"
Eli turned on the archangel and locked his piercing eyes with that of his companion. "Do you have any idea what would happen if Gabrielle was to die without Xena? You see how it is hurting that world. Xena has gone crazy without her soul mate to level her out. She is worse than before she met Gabrielle. Xena will soon die without Gabrielle. It is too soon Michael, they are supposed to grow old together and die together. Not one without the other. I cant change things there, but I can sure stop it in this world. I must be allowed to continue so the same fate doesnt happen again."
The archangel raised his voice to counter Elis presence, "It was one thing when it was just Camrynn that was brought over. But now the God of War has stuck his nose where it doesnt belong! It has sped up the destruction by a factor of ten! We can not allow it to continue."
Startled slightly by Michaels outburst, Eli reeled back. He found his ground soon enough however and recovered his position. "It will be over soon Michael. I promise you that. Soon. It is too close for me to give up now. I swear to you and to the Creator that as soon as it is complete, I will remove Camrynn and make Ares return Livia to her world. I believe that with Camrynn gone, he will have no reason to keep Livia. He too knows the chaos it is causing and will not want it to continue unneeded. It will be over soon!"
Michael stood, regarding Eli and his intensity for a moment. His eyes squinted slightly as his jaw set. After a while, he sighed heavily and nodded. "Alright Eli. You continue to give Nature as much energy as you can. And as soon as its over, you get Camrynn out of there. I understand that this is important to you. I dont claim to know why, but you have your reasons. I will speak with the Creator again.
Eli pinned Michael with his glare. Michael was dangerously coming close to being out of line with the way he was speaking. "I do have my reasons that will be understood in time. But not right now. You will have to accept that. Let the Creator know that he let me take this position for a reason and that he has to trust my judgment."
Michael stormed away, mumbling under his breath. Eli chuckled slightly and turned back to his original place. He reconnected himself with Nature and continued the energy transfer. Once again, Eli was answered by a wave of determination. It will be over soon. Unfortunately, my friend, someone must accept Gabrielles fate as their own. Who that may be cannot be foretold right now. Thats if I can even change her fate. There are too many variables. But, it is the way of things.
Darkness filled the thrown room. An eerie blackness that seemed to ooze over the walls and pillars which were normally kept bright by the torches lining the wall. The source of light was extinguished and cold, only the moon provided a dim glow outlining frames on the walls below the wooden handles. There was one torch and picture for each of the lost Olympian Gods in their memory so as they would never be forgotten.
The room stood still and silent, except for the single figure, outlined by the moonlight that barely moved at the head of the table. One leg was draped over the arm of the chair as the man leaned against the other side. The only sounds heard in the huge room were the infrequent, deep sighs of loss and confusion.
Ares squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head trying to clear his mind. His thoughts were filled with blue .the most intoxicating ice blue that he couldnt tear himself away from. Images swirled through his imagination. Scenes of ebony hair fluidly moving with every motion and those blue eyes burning deep into his, played before him.
"Xena ." His whispered words echoed off the stone walls.
He couldnt get her out of his head. She was more than just the warrior he lost so many years ago, the woman that most men would kill for; she was the woman he loved. And she rejected him, in every sense. Xena wouldnt even give him a second glance. Ares had done everything he could for her and still nothing. He even gave her back the life of her family, so why did she reject him? Xena would be, at best, courteous and thankful, but never once did she ever consider being by his side.
Rage filled him and shook his body. A low growl rose from within and escaped through clenched teeth, growing stronger and louder until it erupted from him in a scream. As he stood in the thrown room bellowing out his pain, a figure stepped from behind him, placing a delicate hand on his shoulder. Ares shoulders slumped and his chin fell to his chest as the last bit of fury left his body.
He turned to see his sister, Aphrodite, looking at him sympathetically. Her ever present happiness and brightness had been replaced with the pain her brother was feeling, shadowing her features. Her eyes seemed sad and to Ares amazement had a glisten from the tears she had been shedding.
Aphrodite studied him for a second, trying to find her words. She hesitantly spoke her thoughts hoping not to upset her brother further. "Why are you doing this, Ares?"
The ferocity of fire that was ignited again within him was held at bay only slightly as he spoke. "She has rejected me in every sense of the word and you ask me why I am doing this?"
Aphrodite stood her ground at her bothers outburst. "You love her Ares. True, she may not return that love, but why do this?"
"Because", the God of War clenched his teeth again, "if she cant love me, then I will take all that she loves away."
"You had the opportunity once Ares and you saved the two she loves the most. What has changed that would make you go back on that decision"
Ares said nothing, just stood and glared at his sister. His dark eyes burned into hers. Aphrodites lips parted in astonishment as she realized Ares intentions. "You thought that saving Eve and Gabrielle would make Xena love you."
Ares dropped his head. "I gave her everything EVERYTHING. My godhood .GONE because of her!"
"She gave us back our powers with the golden apple, which we in turn restored to the remaining Gods."
"And she had the opportunity to be at my side again and she refused!"
Aphrodite sighed and shook her head, her voice quieter than before. "She doesnt love you Ares. You have to accept that, but dont punish her because of it."
"She will pay for not loving me. After all I have given her, after all I have sacrificed .she owes me that!" Ares wheeled around on his heal and walked away, disappearing in a flash of light as he went.
Aphrodite looked on as a new tear fell from her eye. She wrapped her arms around her waist, hugging herself from the chill her brothers cold presence had caused. "You cant make someone love you." She whispered into the dark.
"Let me get this straight. We have how long?"
Camrynn shifted her gaze toward the dark warrior. Her gaze held such fatigue, yet powerful intensity. It had been draining to try so hard to keep her composure while she repeated the words that only minutes before had rung in Eves ears.
Her body was tensed; purposely set this way so that she wouldnt seem frantic as she told her tale that could seem like coincidence to others. Yet here was their proof in this stranger sitting before them.
Camrynn chose to come here to stop the very thing she was describing to her friends at the moment, but she never thought it would start happening as soon as it was. She had hoped for more time to prepare, but then again, how could one prepare for what they were about to face. A scenario that could end in victory and relief or in tragic horror. Two ends of the spectrum, two outcomes with consequences no matter what happened. Consequences that Camrynn herself knew, but held tightly from everyone else.
"We have only a few hours." Camrynns reply was stern and steady however contrary to the emotions that tortured her very soul.
Xenas eyes narrowed as she cocked her head to one side. "How is it possible that we only have a few hours? We havent done anything."
Gabrielle glanced from Xena to Camrynn as silence filled the space between them. After a moment, she broke it. "What is it thats supposed to happen in the next few hours that will set everything into motion?"
Camrynn, usually a somewhat patient person, clenched her teeth. The seriousness of the matter didnt seem to be getting across to her friends and it was wearing on her entire being. Her jaw muscles tightened a few more times before she relaxed herself to the point of controlled speech. "Dont you understand what I am telling you? There is nothing that we do to create this series of events, it is happening now. We dont set things in motion, they are in motion from the moment you are born your fate is laid out. You didnt do anything, it just is. But knowing what is going to happen can help us to avoid it. And that is what we must do stop it."
Picking up on Camrynns irritability, Xena leaned forward mirroring the same annoyance, and opened her mouth to tear into the young warriors attitude. She was stopped by Eve, who raised both hands, one toward each of the warriors, to deter any outbursts.
"Alright, now everyone must stay calm here if we are to do any good." She pinned her mother with a halting gaze first before turning to Camrynn. "I think we understand what you are trying to say is going to happen and that we have to stop it. I think what mother and Gabrielle are asking is what happens next. Where are we supposed to go or avoid going so as not to have this happen again?"
Holding the glare of the warrior princess a moment longer, Camrynn began to answer, then turned her eyes to Eve. "We were heading east toward the village of Andros. When we got there, Laterian was already attacking and burning the village. That is when we stepped in and when ." Her voice trailed off as her eyes fell on Gabrielle.
All eyes were on Gabrielle and held there for a moment as they realized what Camrynn was saying. Eve spoke up as her gaze shifted away from the bard. "Okay, so we just dont go that way, right?"
"Wrong." Gabrielles word startled everyone.
"Gabrielle, if we go that way, youll ." Gabrielle cut the young warrior off in mid sentence. As Xena started to turn toward the bard, a hand was placed on her thigh to stop her words as well. The warriors body tensed in protest of what her soul mate might have in mind.
The bard once again glanced between her warrior and friend. "Look, if we avoid going to Andros, then Laterian will destroy it, we cant let that happen."
Camrynns mind swirled at Gabrielles selfless thought and disregard for her life; she could no longer contain herself. The young warrior stood and took a step toward Gabrielle. Her voice was no longer calm. "And if we let you go that way, you will die; I will not lose you again."
"And I will not let a village full of innocent people be slaughtered." The fire in her eyes was reflecting that which was being directed at her.
"No, Xena," her attention turned to her warrior, "One life, my life, is not worth all the lives in that village."
The two were lost once again in each other. The warrior arguing with herself over what was more important. The bard conveying the importance and seriousness of her words. Xena knew Gabrielle was right; they couldnt just stand by and allow the warlord to destroy the village. But at the same time, she couldnt let Gabrielle die at the hands of him either. Yet all the while, Gabrielle understood why Xena was fighting herself over it. She would do the same thing if it were the warrior in her place. Still, the village didnt stand a chance without their help.
For another small eternity, the pair was locked in their own world. Finally, Xena shook her head slightly, blinking a few times to reset herself from the trance. She looked up at Eve and Camrynn for a brief second then decided what had to be done.
"Alright, this is what we will do. Camrynn, you take Gabrielle and head west. Once you reach Arthos, stay there. Eve and I will go to Andros and stop Laterian."
Xena fixed her bard with an unquestionable and, if seen for what it was, agonizing look. The thought of losing her was excruciating to the warrior princess. Her heart ached at the idea. "Gabrielle, this is the only way to stop him and keep you safe. I need you to stay at that village until Eve and I come get you."
Xena closed her hand in a loose fist and ran the back of her knuckles gently down Gabrielles cheek. A glimmer of a tear reddened Xenas eyes as she stared at the bard. As Gabrielle began to speak, Xena stood and started toward Argo leaving no room for a response.
Eve looked at the bard and young warrior, and smiled nervously as though about to speak. She shook her head and started after her mother, Gabrielle looking on after them. With Eve gone, Camrynn moved toward Gabrielle and sat next to her. Sensing the bards bewilderment, she tried to comfort her friend.
"Gabrielle, I know you are worried about Xena, but she is strong, she will be fine."
"Its not that."
"Then what is it?" Camrynn asked, slightly confused.
The bard sighed and looked up to meet the questioning eyes. "Its just that sometimes I feel as if Xena is protecting me too much. Its like she still sees me as that helpless village girl I was when we first met. Then she shows such love and it scares her, so she runs before anyone else can see it."
"Oh," The young warrior nodded, relating to the situation. "I know how you feel. Najara used to do the same thing. Treated me like I was a novice, protecting me too much, and caring so much it frightened her."
Camrynn paused as she regarded the bards mostly expressionless face. Her eyes revealed what her spirit was feeling. "But Gabi, really I think its just that Xena knows you died in my world and she knows that if it wasnt for the closeness of our realities, Eli wouldnt have sent me here. I think that Xena realizes that its not a possibility you will die if you go to Andros, its a certainty. Else I wouldnt be here, ya know?"
Admitting that Camrynn was probably right, she nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."
"She doesnt want to lose you, Gabi. She loves you very deeply and she will do anything to ensure your safety." Camrynn slid an arm around her friends shoulders. She was reminded of the talks her and her sister had on many occasions. Without thinking, Camrynn had given the bard sitting next to her the nickname she always called her sister. It was like second nature to the young warrior, but it surprised her, the ease she felt with Gabrielle.
A heart warming and appreciative smile graced Gabrielles face as she looked into the eyes she shared with the women before her. The bard wrapped her arms around Camrynn, enveloping her in a hug that was returned with equal emotion. "Thank you my friend."
"Ive lost them."
Laterian stared across the tent from his chair. His mind and body numbed for the past several hours. He had awoken in his bed and had been this way ever since. Moving from the bed to the chair was the most movement he had made.
Laterian was partially grateful for the numbness for it masked not only the physical pain from the fight with Livia, but the humiliation as well. The only thing that continuously ran through his mind was the last words he heard before losing consciousness "Hail, Livia". That and how he had lost his army.
His army that was forged from his blood and hard work. It had started many years ago when he had seen his father give up the last bit of himself that was a warlord. Laterian had disagreed with his father and had tried to convince Draco otherwise, but had no success. Having learned everything Draco knew, he took it upon himself to keep alive that which his father had begun.
Laterian had despised some of the things that were his father, but this was the one thing he had agreed with. He couldnt allow the legacy to die. So one day he, along with a few of his village friends that had trained together since childhood, left home and recruited several people eager to be a part of an army. Laterian and his friends trained the new fighters, found more eager warriors, and soon created his own army. He had to admit it was a small army, but it was a start. It was then, when they attacked their first village, that Laterian met his future second in command, Nicholaus.
"Burn all the houses, occupants or no."
He moved toward the closest soldier, grabbing the torch and riding toward the end of the village. Laterian extended his arm and was about to light the roof when a man on horseback rounded the corner. The surprise on the newcomers face was intense, however brief. With shock in his eyes, the blond man quickly glanced from one point of devastation to the next.
Resting his eyes accusingly on Laterian, after a moment, the shock turned instantly to that of hate. He guided his horse forward moving toward his focus, pinning the novice warlord in his position. Laterian could see the fire emanating from the man before him. He could see the power and rage, which intrigued the warlord to no end. Such emotion from a villager who ran off to play soldier boy.
Laterian held the challengers gaze, waiting from him to make a move. He wasnt disappointed. Without warning, the stranger charged forward, drawing his sword from behind his back. He pointed it directly at Laterians heart, intending to end the destruction his village was suffering.
The warlords face broke in an evil grin at the novelty of his situation. He had thought that perhaps the first few attacks on villages would be boring, easy prey. But this most definitely was not the case. He loved to fight, yet the men of the village were pathetic adversaries. This, on the other hand, was a real challenge and very exciting to him. He could tell that this opponent was of strong stature, worthy of a good brawl. Something, however, caught Laterians attention, the eyes. They were kind, which was contrary to the behavior displayed right now. It surprised the warlord, perhaps it could be used to his advantage.
The newcomer saw what appeared to be a distraction in the warlords concentration. It was at this moment that he kicked his horse in the side to accelerate his charge as he lifted his sword a little higher for a quicker strike. Unfortunately for him, Laterian was far from distracted.
The warlord charged ahead as well. Just as they were about to clash swords, the warlord pulled the reigns hard to the right causing his horse to turn in a half circle. Just as his opponents sword swung past his left side, Laterian tossed his sword to the other hand and reached outward, contacting against the mans chest with the broad side of his sword. It looked as though the man on horseback stopped in mid air and the horse had kept on running.
The man fell backward off his horse and smashed into the ground. Rolling to his feet, he was just in time to block the blade Laterian controlled. A loud clang of metal hitting metal echoed through the village. There was a noticeable amount of power behind the warlords swing. It had nearly knocked the newcomer back again, but he caught himself and pushed Laterian away from him.
The two stared at each other for a moment, assessing their opponent. The rage still poured from the blondes eyes. In a swift, graceful motion, he attacked as all conscious thought left him and he was consumed.
The battle lasted for a while. Each man gaining and losing the upper hand. They were almost equally matched, but it was inevitable that one would prevail. And so it was that in a moment of physical weakness, Nicholayus fell at Laterians feet from not only exhaustion, but also his lack of attention the fatigue caused. Laterian swept Nicholayus legs out from under him and settled his sword into the neck of his opponent. It was then, after getting Nicholayus to yield, did he make his offer. Even through his own fatigue, Laterian knew that this was the raw talent he needed to be his second in command.
"You are defeated soldier." Laterian saw the reservation in his opponents eyes at that statement. "What is your name?"
"Nicholayus." The man growled.
Through winded words, Laterian made his offer. "Join my army, Nicholayus, as my second in command and I will leave this village be for good. It will be rebuilt and it will prosper, never having to worry about this again." He waved his arm toward the village and the harm that had come to it, emphasizing the damage.
Shocked and confused eyes turned toward the warlord. Nicholayus was torn. He wanted his village safe, but to join this man was it worth what he may have to do to numerous villages in the future? Then again, those villages would come to harm even if he didnt fight at Laterians side and maybe, just maybe, he could convince Laterian to go a bit easier on the people. His thoughts must have taken longer than he realized because the next thing he knew, Laterian was in his face. His expression was twisted in fury at the lack of response.
"If you refuse, I will kill everyone and burn the village to the ground while you are restrained so you can do nothing but watch and listen to them scream as I torture them until they die. Its your choice, join me or live with those images and sounds in your head for the rest of your life. Whats left of it, that is. Because when I am done with them you will be next."
Nicholayus expression relaxed into a blank stare as he captured the warlords eyes. "Fine. You leave my village be, and I will take my place as second in command of your army."
So began his army and now here he was. Defeated by a woman and losing it all to her. At that, the flaps of his tent flew back and Livia strode in.
"Speak of the devil." He muttered to himself.
"What was that?"
Shaking his head, "Nothing."
Livia narrowed her eyes as she studied the man. He looked like he had lost all his fire. It really wasnt her concern; she didnt care one way or another. She made sure he would fight when needed, or he would lose more than his army.
Shrugging it off, she continued. "Now, after reviewing your plans," she drew out the last word so as to mock the ignorance in Laterians maps, then continued. "Ive drawn up new ones."
Laterian settled back in his chair as he listened to his work and life being wrenched away from him. All he could do now was listen for his orders and carry them out. As much as he hated that Livia had control of his army, he couldnt just completely abandon his people. He had worked too hard and too long to just let it all go.
"You planned on attacking just Andros and as I said before, we are going to raid both. You are going to take half the army and go here." Livia looked up from the map where her finger was resting on Arthos. She found that Laterians attention was far from her. Reaching behind her, she lifted a knife from her waist band and in one quick snap of the wrist, threw it at the warlord. Laterians eyes whipped forward as he grabbed the knife out of the air, but not before it sliced the palm of his hand. Wincing, he shifted his eyes toward Livia, shocked at her attack. She was staring at him, burning rage emanating from her. She moved toward him, keeping hold of the glare between them. Livia stopped mere inches from Laterian, looming over top of him. No words were spoken by either of them, but many messages were conveyed.
Laterian could see and feel the power Livia possessed and finally came to realize his position. The memories of Romes Champion and her work came to mind. He remembered how she never hesitated to destroy anything in her path and was always a step ahead of everyone. Laterian realized that she must be exerting serious control to not take his head off right then and there. And lastly the defeated warlord understood that he would never regain his army. He resigned himself to all of this knowing that he was more than likely lucky to be alive. With all these new revelations, Laterian looked away in defeat.
Livia saw everything come crashing down in Laterians eyes and smiled to herself. She would have it all .him, his army, the end of Elis army, and most importantly Rome.
"As I was saying," she continued, "You will attack Arthos while I take the other half of the army to Andros. We will conquer both villages and all the problems of lack of food and moral will be eliminated. Do you understand?"
A brief shake of the warlords head answered her. The plan seemed sound. Livia knew what she was talking about. A deep sigh and all his depression left his body with it. He rose to his feet. "I will prepare the army."
Another smile oozed over Livias lips. "Good."
The heavens once again rang with the sound of laughter. Ares watched as Livia became so sure of herself and her victory. If she only knew that she was merely a pawn .Ares thought to himself. If she only knew.
A strange tension surrounded the pair of women as they made their way toward Arthos. Both had their worries and troubles running through their minds. Neither knew whether or not to break the silence or let it continue. It seemed like every silent step taken built the tension. It had started the moment the four women left camp, heading to the separate villages.
Gabrielle had still partially been fuming at how Xena had insisted they part ways, afraid she would be hurt. The bards point was that now knowing what would happen that it could be avoided. She was so sure that Xena would go with it when the warrior got quiet and looked into the distance, signifying her consideration of the idea. But then she just shook her head, vocalized her decision and walked off.
Gabrielle had spent this time on the journey, trying to justify Xenas point, but all it did was manage to make her even more agitated. Trying to forget it, Gabrielle focused on her companion walking next to her. She could feel the young warriors tension and discomfort, but didnt know what to do. She assumed Camrynn was on edge due to the recent events that had transpired. Perhaps any conversation would distract both of them from their thoughts.
"So, um, are we just gonna have a quiet night when we get to Arthos."
A moment passed before Camrynn responded. She shook her head slightly and smiled, grateful for the breech of silence. "Yeah. Arthos is supposed to have this tavern with the best food and ale."
"Oh, well thats good. Well get a room and relax for a bit, then have dinner."
"That sounds really good actually." Camrynns smile grew even more.
"Hey, I wanted to ask you a question."
Camrynn paused for a second, wondering what Gabrielle could ask. "Uh...sure."
The bard chuckled at Camrynns apprehension. "The other night I was watching you in the brush. You were doing a series of organize fighting techniques "
Cutting Gabrielle off "Yes, the Katalinqua."
"Right. Well I was wondering where you learned it. And if possible, could you show me some of it?"
Camrynn was more than happy to explain the origin of the Katalinqua to the bard and share her knowledge. Gabrielle was slightly surprised when she learned it was taught by Najara, but then remembered that she hadnt been around the Najara of her world long enough to see if she possessed the same talents. She was, however, fascinated by the light in the young warriors eyes as she went through the explanation of what the Katalinqua was and described the different forms to her and what each one was for.
The bard grew more eager the further detail Camrynn went into. She wanted to learn as much as she could while her friend was here. Most of the forms sounded like they could be learned relatively quickly, but also like it took years to perfect them. Maybe Gabrielle could even write them down as she was taught so that they were on record for who ever might see the scrolls in the future. She could even teach them to Xena. At least it wasnt yoga that Gabrielle knew Xena disliked perhaps this would be more of her style. Something they could all do together.
Gabrielle smiled to herself. Even though Camrynn wasnt really her sister, she felt a certain kinship with the friend walking beside her. She knew that she could never replace what the young warrior had lost, but maybe she could help her feel welcome and a part of her new home. The bard had a feeling that the two of them would grow close.
It was nearly dark when Xena and Eve entered Andros. Most of the villagers had retreated to their homes for the night, but a few shops remained open for the late travelers. Mainly food stands and a single black smith shop still stood with their lanterns burning in the event that someone might need to grab their rations or fix their weapons or broken horse shoes before continuing on their journey.
Xena and Eve walked past all of these stands and shops, nodding their acknowledgement to anyone that made eye contact. The warrior noticed how pleasant they all seemed given the fact that the two of them were strangers. Heading to the village center, they found the inn they had been looking for. Outside stood a stable boy gawking at Xenas mare as they strode toward him. The warrior cleared her throat to get the boys attention, and then smiled as he tore his eyes away from Argo.
"Any room for my horse tonight?"
"Um yes yes there is."
"Good," she handed the boy the reigns and flipped him a dinar. "Make sure she is well cared for."
The boys eyes grew wide at the unexpected token. A huge grin spread across his face as he immediately headed for the stables in the back. "No problem. Dont you worry, she will have the best of everything tonight I will give her the royal treatment!!"
Xena and Eve chuckled to themselves as they watched the boy run off. Shaking her head slightly, the warrior led the way through the door of the tavern. The warmth of the room stripped them of the nights chill and the aroma of food caused their long empty bellies to growl. The pair headed straight to the nearest table and sat down hard in the seat. It had been a bit of a walk and they were tired.
Out of the corner of her eye, Xena noticed a heavy set, older woman heading their way. She had a pleasantly round face and easy eyes. Her rosy cheeks complimented her soft skin and large smiling mouth. She had a kind presence that was welcoming.
"Welcome ladies. What can I get for you two tonight?" She had a bubbly personality that fit her appearance well.
"Well, we would love to have two of your specials. And a room too, if you have one available." Eve wasted no time getting her order in, she was famished.
"Alright deary, no problem. Two specials it is. It will warm you right up; its a little cold out there tonight. We have a room too; with a fireplace as well, just go on up when you are ready. Top of the stairs, first door on your right. It faces the village, but it doesnt tend to be terribly noisy, so you should not be disturbed."
The pair smiled warmly and thanked the innkeeper as she left. Xena glanced around the Inn, taking in everything. It was actually quite nice, fitting to the innkeeper. There were flowers and plants placed in various areas. There was a big fireplace with an area to sit in front of it on one side of the inn. The other side, where Xena and Eve sat, was set up for food service and there was a bar on the far wall opposite the fireplace. To the left was the stairs the woman had mentioned.
The mother and daughter were quiet as they sat there waiting for their food. Both were tired and really had little to say at this point, they just sat with their thoughts. Xena wanted to ask the innkeeper when she returned if anything unusual had been happening around the village, but she didnt want to startle her or anything. Before she knew it, the innkeeper had returned with their food and mugs.
"Here, my own special ale to warm you to the core. Its on the house." She said with a wink.
"Thanks a lot."
"No problem deary. It looks like you have traveled a ways. And with the two villages trading crops lately, a lot of dinars have been saved. I can afford to give out some free drinks here and there." A hearty chuckle filled the room.
Eve took a sip of her ale and smiled. It had a rich, smooth taste, unlike many she had tried before. And, surprisingly, it did warm her up; she could feel it all the way down to her stomach. It spread over her body instantly. "What do you mean trading crops?"
"Well, you see, this village and Arthos now trade crops. Its to save each one from having a shortage of supplies. It wasnt too long ago that they started it and it has really done wonders for both villages. Both are prospering wonderfully."
Xenas eyebrow rose. "That must draw a lot of attention."
The innkeeper cocked her head to the side a bit as she thought about the warriors statement. "Well yeah it does, I suppose. Many travelers have commented on how it must save each village a ton and how it was a good idea."
"Has it drawn any negative attention?" The warrior asked.
The innkeeper chuckled again. "Oh heavens no deary. Not a soul has thought the worse of it. And everyone that knows about it finds it to be to each villages advantage."
Xena smiled to ease any questions that may arise. "Thats good. And I agree, it does seem to do the village a great service. I am glad its working out for everyone."
"Im glad you like it. Now eat up girls and get some rest you look tired." The innkeeper smiled warmly at the two of them as they started to eat, then bid them farewell and a good night. Calling over her shoulder as she entered a room next to the stairs, "I am right in this room here if you need anything tonight."
They finished their meals quickly and headed up the stairs. Their room was warm; the fire had already been started and filled the room with an orange glow. It too had a cozy feel to it. The innkeeper had been right; Xena and Eve were very tired. The past few days were hectic and confusing. Nothing would be better than to sleep away some of the drama and have a fresh start in the morning. Perhaps things would be easier solved without such a cloudy mind.
Eve started preparing the beds for the both of them as Xena moved to the only window in the room. Pulling back the wooden door, she looked down onto the village road. There were still a few vendors open that she could see from the glow of their lanterns. Below she spotted the stable boy.
The boy jumped as he looked up to the voice. "Y-yes?"
"I didnt mean to startle you. Has my horse been taken care of?"
"Oh yes she has! A beautiful mare, one of a kind! I havent seen anything like her before."
A smile spread across the warriors lips at the praise Argo was receiving. "I know, she is one of a kind. She has been fed and everything?"
"Most definitely. She has been fed, has water, and her own stall."
"Thank you. Good night."
Xena received a very enthusiastic nod as she closed the wooden door. As she turned around toward Eve, she found her daughter fast asleep. Smiling once again to herself, she walked over to her daughter and knelt down beside the bed. The warrior brushed a few stray hairs off Eves head, examining the soft features. Sighing, she leaned forward and kissed the young womans cheek.
"Rest well, Evie. I love you."
Xena rose from the bedside, stripping off her armor. Lying down in the other bed, Xena stole one last look at her daughter before she, herself drifted off to sleep.
The sun warmed the morning air causing a slight mist to settle on the ground. There was a small chill that was fading fast around the two figures in the grassy yard of the inn. The pair was positioned slightly staggered, one behind the other, moving almost synchronously.
Gabrielle was only a second, if not less, behind Camrynn as she mimicked the movements of the young warrior. They were taking the Katalinqua slowly, flowing from one movement to the next gracefully. Camrynn had wanted to reduce the speed of every motion so as to get the technical side of it across to her companion.
The pair had been at this for quite some time now, their skin glistening from the ever warming air. As they raised their left arm above their heads in a circular motion, the other arm went out to their side, parallel to their extended stance. They paused for a moment, and then both arms circled inward, moving from their waist up over their heads while at the same time bringing their legs together. Their arms dropped to their sides as they bowed at the waist, ending another form. Camrynn turned toward Gabrielle, a peaceful serenity to her eyes and a smile on her lips.
"And that is the end of this one."
A broad smile covered Gabrielles face. "Wow that was great."
The bard bent down and picked up her scroll. She started to write down what they had just done, asking a question here and there to make sure she had the full form down properly and so that she could read and perform the Katalinqua again without hindrance.
This had been the fourth one they had gone through that Gabrielle had documented precisely. They had been up with the sun and hadnt stopped other than for the bard to write it down. Now, however, a deep rumble emanated from their bellies, protesting the physical exertions and lack of fuel. They decided to pause for some breakfast before continuing with their exercise.
"This is really great. I am enjoying this." The bard commented after ordering.
"I am as well. I have some more I can show you as soon as you are ready. In fact, I can show them all to you today. There are about twelve like the ones we have been doing. We could go through each one as we have done."
"That sounds great. Wow, twelve huh. It looked like you had done more than that the other day."
"Well, Gabrielle, these are the ones without weapons. There are several more with weapons. I could show you those as well, but I only know the ones that use the staff. The others I was not able to learn until I perfected these."
"Thats fine. I used to have a staff myself. It was just recently I switched to the Sais."
Camrynns eyes locked with the bards for a moment. She seemed lost in the emerald depths that matched her own. The young warrior was filled with warmth from the love that Gabrielle emitted. She could see the trueness of the bard, which she recognized as being the same that she possessed as well. Camrynn was happy she had this opportunity to befriend the bard and find the qualities her departed sister shared with the woman before her.
Gabrielle tilted her head slightly as she regarded the young warriors expression. Camrynn blinked a few times then glanced away. "What are you doing when you look at me like that?"
Camrynns cheeks blushed as she realized how obvious she had been. "Uh, well. Im sorry if it made you uncomfortable."
"Oh no, I just wondered."
"Well, I like to call it looking into your soul. Actually I do it to a lot of people. I like to get a feel of what they are like."
"So you can see my soul?"
"Not exactly. I can get a feeling about you. I dont really see anything. I just feel."
"Oh, I see. So what did you feel just then?" Gabrielle realized that she did the same kind of thing when meeting people, just never thought of it as seeing into someones soul. She was curious as to what her friend had seen.
Camrynn chuckled nervously for a split second. "I I felt .love. The love you have for most everything. I felt the warmth of it. You remind me so much of my sister in that way."
The bard smiled as she tried to lighten what seemed to her to be a serious moment. "That would make sense right? I am in a way."
"True. You share many of her qualities as well as my own. I am happy to have come here and met you. And I am thrilled that you wanted to learn the Katalinqua. It is such a big part of my life and I am glad to be sharing it with you."
Gabrielle reached out her hand and squeezed the young warriors, looking into her eyes. "I am too."
Camrynn returned the smile. They held each other in that moment as they both took a quick look into the others soul. Each found the warmth, love, and trueness of the other. They were broken away as their food arrived. As they ate, Gabrielle and Camrynn reflected on their time since the young warriors arrival and the friendship that had grown from it. They sat in a comfortable silence, enjoying their breakfast and each others company.
Laterian stood atop the hillside, looking down at the village below. He had been there for a few minutes judging the best way to enter Arthos. He figured that the southern side, the side he was on now, would be the most advantageous. Most of the village houses and markets were faced to the north, this way he could enter almost without being seen.
Hating the fact that he was here instead at the other village, he fumed at his situation. Andros was larger than this one and it had many more resources that he knew of. Well, apparently Livia believed differently.
"Then she should be here, not me." Laterian mumbled to himself.
Sighing and turning back to his army, Laterian thought how, technically, Livia was right. This bothered him because he had not seen it himself until she had pointed it out. It wasnt so much that he had been outdone by a woman, but that he was now just following her like any other soldier in an army and not standing up for himself and his army. He could have challenged her again, in all honesty the turn out wouldnt have been all that different. Oh well. His thought echoed in his head, sounding more defeated each time.
The fact still remained that he didnt want to be here, so it had better be an easy take or he was out of there. He wanted the resources, no doubt. But he would rather have the other villages resources over these; it was what he was worried about the most. That was another reason he wanted to be at Andros. So he could oversee the taking of it, make sure it is done and done right. If those resources were in jeopardy ..he would make sure he did anything to save them. They were too important to him. His army needed those supplies. My army? No her army. Shaking his head he turned on his heel.
Returning to Nicholayus side, a slight nod conveyed his readiness. Nicholayus paused briefly, detecting what looked like defeat in his commanders eyes. Laterian raised his eyes to the man on the horse, instantly the defeat disappeared and was replaced by determination. Nicholayus knew it was determination to hold himself together so as not to let the army see his defeat. He quickly broke his eyes from his commander and straightened himself. Yanking on the reigns he turned his horse toward the army.
At the command, the army started forward and down the hill. It didnt take them long to enter the village. As Laterian had predicted, no one saw them coming so there was no warning to any of the villagers. A small group of people came around a corner, turning away from the army so as not to notice them. Of course, no one heard the sound of the horses steps, being that it must be common place in a village like this.
Locking his gaze on the people, Laterian drew his sword. Twisting his head up to his second in command he smiled slightly. He would be able to get out a little aggression during this attack. "Gotta start somewhere."
Nodding in response, Nicholayus drew his own sword and pointed it in front of him. Drawing a deep breath, he yelled loud enough for the army to hear, but not to alert the entire village. "Ahead, take everything you find!"
Soon the village was filled with screams and yells echoing off the houses and market booths
Two sets of arms fell into a blocking position and fluidly into a final uppercut as a yell bellowed from the pair. This ended the Katalinqua. Both figures held the last position a moment before standing with their feet together and bowing at the waist.
"Another good work out!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
Smiling, Camrynn nodded her head. "Yeah that is one of my favorites."
She picked up the water skin, took a long drink then tossed it to the bard who drank down just as much water. Together they sat down and wiped the sweat from their brow. Gabrielle looked up at the sun. "Wow, its well into the afternoon already. Doesnt seem like we have been doing this very long."
"I agree. The time has passed quickly."
They had managed to get through all the free hand forms and touched on some of the Katalinqua that used the staff. When Camrynn had suggested using weapons, Gabrielle was up to the idea. But then she realized that she would have to find a staff if she were going to learn any of these forms. The two broke for a few minutes so they could find a shop that had a staff for sale.
Even though the bard had switched weapons, she figured that she could practice with the staff again so she wasnt rusty. It could always come in handy at some point. After purchasing the staff, they had returned to the back area of the tavern to continue their work out. Camrynn had gotten them through half of the forms with the weapon when they took another water break.
"So you have those all written down? Mind if I take a look?"
The bard nodded and handed her scrolls to the young warrior, looking over her shoulder as she reviewed the writings. "Oh, right here," Camrynn pointed "you are supposed to jab with the left hand, not with the right. If you jab with the right, it is hard to use the right hand for the next punch. Plus you wouldnt have the power you get from twisting your body."
Gabrielles brow furrowed a bit as she found where Camrynn was referring to. "Oh, oops. Okay, let me change that." She reached around the young warrior, making the change. They sat there and reviewed everything Gabrielle had written down. There were a few changes here and there, but nothing major. They had just finished with the end of the last scroll entry when a scream tore through the air.
Gabrielle and Camrynn took off, dropping the scroll as they ran. They dashed through the tavern to the street in front. They found an army headed down the street, slashing and beating at any of the villagers that tried to stop them. Both still had their staffs they had used in the Katalinqua forms, so they grasped it with the other hand tightly and charged toward the invaders.
Cutting into the army, the pair knocked the soldiers out of their way as they went. Camrynn swung her staff, contacting with the temple of a nearby soldier. As he fell, she turned around to face the next opponent and stopped dead in her tracks. There atop one of the horses, was here sisters murderer.
Her mind raced with confusion. He shouldnt be here. Eli said this was going to play out the exact same way. Why is he here? Camrynns rage replaced her confusion as she charged forward. She had no other thought than to get to Laterian. Soldier after soldier stepped into her path, but was swiftly and easily batted away like flies. Nothing was going to stand between Camrynn and her target.
Gabrielle watched from her position after knocking a few of her own opponents down. Everything happened so quickly at first, and then seemed to slow down at the last few seconds. She saw Camrynn knock away a few soldiers, but then all of a sudden she turned and froze. In an instant she was dashing toward a man on a horse. Gabrielle was unsure of why the young warrior stopped, but when she followed the path of her friend and saw who the man was; all the pieces fell into place.
The man on the horse was a spitting image of Draco. It took the bard a second to realize that it wasnt the man who so long ago was hit by Cupids arrow and had fallen in love with her. This man was his son; this man was the target of the young warrior. Gabrielle saw as Camrynn swiped away anyone who stood in her way, and then everything slowed to a crawl. The young warriors strides lengthened. She then leapt into the air and swung her staff around to her left side, ready to strike. Laterian turned just in time to see the woman headed toward him, but too late to react. Camrynns staff connected painfully with the warlords right cheek and he was thrown clear from his horse.
As the staff contacted Laterians face, everything returned to its normal speed. Laterian crashed to the ground and looked up at Camrynn in utter shock. The young warrior wasted no time in her assault. With the warlord caught off guard, Camrynn beat on him mercilessly. Gabrielle knew the rage that her friend was experiencing, but she couldnt allow this to continue. She ran to Camrynn and yanked her back from the fallen and beaten warlord. The young warrior spun around and swung her staff down at Gabrielle not realizing it was the bard. Gabrielle was ready for it though and brought her own staff up to block the strike.
"Camrynn!!!" Gabrielle screamed as the two staffs cracked together.
The bards yell snapped Camrynn out of the crazy assault. The fury drained from her eyes instantly and she froze in her place as she locked eyes with the bard. From behind the pair, Laterian rose to his feet slowly and painfully. The shock had yet to leave his expression as he limped toward his horse and carefully lifted himself onto its back. The young warrior and bard turned to see Laterian on his steed. The warlord stared down at the two in disbelief. After a moment he turned to his army.
"Pull back!!!! Retreat from this place!!!"
With one final astounded look, he pulled his reigns and rode away. He wasnt sure how the young warrior woman had caught him off guard, but it wasnt worth staying around here. He didnt want to be here in the first place and after that battering, Laterian wasnt about to hang around. If Livia wanted this village, she could take it herself.
Laterian didnt know what he was going to say to explain himself when he got to Andros and to Livia. He would think of something on the way. He felt a little silly retreating from the village; he probably could have fended the warrior off. But it wasnt just the fact that the woman had caught him off guard. Something felt strange when he looked at her. It was like he had seen her somewhere before, however he never forgot a face. Yet this woman, he could swear he had seen her. She felt familiar as did the one that pulled his assailant off of him. It sent a chill down his spine.
The warlord reached the top of the hill he had been on earlier and turned his horse to face the village once again. The last of his army rode up behind him as he stared down at the two women that continued to keep an eye on him. The strange feeling swept over him again. He quickly reeled his horse around and kicked it into a run. How am I going to explain this one?
Gabrielle and Camrynn watched as Laterian rode away from the top of the hill, his army in tow. The bard was the first to tear her eyes away and turned to her friend. "Are you okay?"
Camrynn took a few deep breaths before she too tore her eyes away from the grassy knoll and faced the bard. "Yeah. Sorry about that."
"Dont worry about it. That was Laterian wasnt it?"
"Yes, it was."
"But I thought he was supposed to be .."
Camrynn cut the bard off, "He is." She paused as her eyes narrowed in confused contemplation. She heaved a strained breath as she continued. "And did you see how he looked at us? Like he knew us?" The bard nodded. "He shouldnt, hes never seen either of us before."
"I dont know whats going on," the bard said, "but something doesnt feel right. I think we better get to Andros to let Xena know whats going on."
Camrynn stared off toward the hillside again. She was completely lost, nothing made sense anymore. What frightened her the most is that she didnt know what was coming next. Her only advantage since arriving here was that she knew where Laterian was going to be, knew what was going to happen. Now she had no idea what was around the corner. It made no sense, Eli sent her because she could stop the same thing from happening here. He said it was supposed to be exactly how it was in her world other than a few small changes from her presence here. Something has changed. Someone or something has altered the way of this world other than me.
She jumped as Gabrielle touched her arm. The young warrior could tell it wasnt the first time the bard had called to her. "What? Oh yeah. Yeah we better get going; it will be getting late soon." Camrynn kept her idea to herself until she had time to think about what was happening. It was probably best to find Xena, perhaps they could figure out what to do.
Gabrielle simply nodded as they headed back to the inn to retrieve their belongings. A quick conversation with the stable master, explaining that they were riding to Andros and desperately needed horses, and the pair had a faster means of travel. The stable master let them take the horses for free, explaining that the horses could be retrieved on the next supply shipment to Andros. They showed their gratitude, then quickly loaded everything onto their new horses. The pair then raced away from the village. Unknown to the both of them, they were headed straight into their fate. A fate that Eli hoped would be changed from what it had been in the other world. He prayed that Camrynns world would be the only one that found the bard dead at the end of the day.
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