The sun had finally vanished beneath the distant dunes. Imani, Seftus and Sindis all emerged from the three tombs, looking like reanimated corpses. They each felt the thirst welling up within them.
Imani stretched luxuriously, her pale eyes scanning the growing darkness in anticipation. Then she frowned.
"Where is Arijani?" she asked. Her two companions had no answer. Something like concern crept into her mind. The three of them began moving towards the edge of the necropolis, heading towards the temple guest quarters.
"Hello, Imani," The voice was smooth, crisp in a gentle baritone.
The three of them turned toward the source and Imani's mouth dropped open in shock.
A low hiss escaped Sindis's lips and her eyes went red with wrath.
Seftus merely studied the apparition closely, with eyes narrowed in suspicion.
Perched atop a small stone dome, wrapped in a long dark coat, and looking like a huge bird of prey, was Nickoli. His hands were clasped before him, elbows resting on his knees.
His eyes shone fiery green in the light of the rising moon. He smiled a perfectly icy smile at the trio.
"It's been a long time?"
Imani's gaze flicked back towards the guest quarters and then to her father creator.
"So many questions," Nickoli said, smiling. "Maddening, isn't it?"
His fierce green eyes flicked to Sindis, eyes ablaze with rage. Her entire body was tensed to spring at her victim. The fingers of her hands curled into hunting talons.
"Sindis," Nickoli said easily. "It isn't difficult to deduce what you intend. I don't recommend it." His one eyebrow rose as if her anger amused him.
"You promised me my vengeance," Sindis hissed angrily.
Imani looked at Nickoli carefully. He merely sat composed, a bemused, patient expression on his face.
"If you think you can take your revenge?" Imani suggested.
She was studying this figure carefully. Outwardly, it was her creator, the father of their entire race. But something within her dead heart screamed a warning.
Nickoli dropped lightly to the ground, and a sword appeared in his right hand. He stood tall, poised, his weapon behind him, pointed at the ground.
"If you truly wish to pursue this confrontation to its final stupidity?" He said with just a hint of regret. "Then, by all means?"
Gabrielle rested twenty feet up the eastern side of the great pyramid, watching the confrontation with considerable angst.
As well trained a fighter as her husband was, three supernatural beings on one was still a pretty one sided bout.
Then she saw the figure of Sindis and her eyes went wide. The young former Amazon warrior was the sister to the girl that David had inadvertently killed in Tripolis. Somehow, she had allied herself with these undead creatures and become one of them!
The appearance of that enemy decided Gabrielle's mind. She pulled out the second water skin filled with vampire blood and drank.
Her mind wandered back suddenly to a time, thirty years prior. She was running through the tall grasses, carrying the bag filled with Arijani's Black Scrolls slung over her shoulder. She had nearly reached the path, the sounds of Xena fighting in a battle fading behind her, when an arm wrapped about her shoulders and threw her off her feet.
Then a hand clapped over her mouth and the sensation entered her body.
The feeling was identical, except this time, she was forcing herself to do it of her own accord.
The liquid flowed into her like salty molasses. It seemed to settle in her belly like a heavy weight. She breathed in anticipation a few times, and then the mass in her gut exploded outward into every fiber of her being. She reeled from the shock of it. She had been expecting the white hot sensation of agony when the change began. Instead, the feelings were so over filled with pleasure that it made her hurt.
She suppressed a cry of agony. Her grip on the smooth face of the pyramid failed and she rolled back down, striking the hard stone at the bottom with a sickening thud.
The sensation was like a siren wailing in his mind. He winced in sudden pain as something flashed through his soul.
His free hand rose to his head and the sword fell from his numbed fingers.
A burst of agony seemed to rifle through the right side of his body before burning itself out just as quickly. He dropped to one knee.
"Nickoli!" Imani cried out.
Sindis, seeing her opportunity for vengeance, charged in with a hiss of rage.
The figure of Nickoli seemed to suddenly float off the ground, spinning horizontally in the air, the sword back in his hand. The blade sliced across the Amazon's midsection, and Nickoli landed several yards away, his green eyes ablaze.
"Not very sporting, my dear," he chided her.
Sindis looked down at the wound across her middle and smiled. Her smile faded when the injury was slow to heal. She saw the black blood on her opponent's sword, glistening in the moonlight.
"Do you wish to continue?" Nickoli asked evenly, spinning the weapon casually. Behind those cool eyes, David's mind was reeling with the sudden onslaught.
"What the hell was that?" he thought furiously. Another thought entered his mind, unbidden and very unexpected.
"Me and my bright ideas," it said in a hauntingly familiar voice. Then he swore he heard a groan. It sounded like Gabrielle!
"What the hell did she do?" he thought angrily. Then he had to focus again on Sindis. The Amazon warrior, undaunted by the severe injury, charged in again, this time, she leapt clear of his blade and managed to slash at her opponent with claw like hands.
There was the sound of shredding cloth, and David saw the holes in the flap of his coat as he spun.
Sindis landed like a cat, here eyes filled with demonic hunger.
"That's quite enough out of you, miss," he said in that same neutral calm. In his heart he knew she wouldn't listen.
"No, she won't," Gabrielle's voice rang in his mind again.
David blinked. "Will you stop that?" he thought angrily.
"Sorry," Gabrielle's voice echoed back. "Don't move."
Again, Sindis charged in. This time, before David could close with her, another shape burst from the darkness and collided with the charging Amazon.
Two figures rolled across the ground in a cloud of dust.
David's eyes went wide and his jaw dropped open in astonishment.
Gabrielle rose like a graceful hunting cat, her eyes blazing with unholy fire. She moved with a fluidity that was inhuman. She hissed in challenge at Sindis.
The younger Amazon was too shocked to do much of anything at first. In her preternatural state, she was certain that she could have taken Gabrielle, and mostly certain that David would have also fallen. This twist of circumstance had never entered her mind.
"What are you?" She hissed at David.
David merely smiled and twirled the sword a few more times.
"What do you think we are?" He asked in Nickoli's entrancing baritone.
Imani's question was a bit simpler. "What is the child doing here?" she asked, pointing at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle stepped back over to stand at David's side, her hands clasping over his shoulder as she looked at the others hungrily. Her every move was a seduction.
"You crazy little bitch!" David thought angrily, though he kept his face calm.
"Watch it!" Gabrielle's voice responded in his mind. She turned and placed a gentle kiss on his pale cheek.
That simple act of familiarity seemed to enrage Imani. Her breath heaved in anger.
"I understand that you had a fascination with her when she was before us," she hissed in anger. "But you told me that was all?"
"I was preparing you, Imani," David replied carefully. "To lead the conclave after all was done. I truly did not expect to survive our little encounter with the Warrior Princess."
"How did you survive, My Lord?" Seftus asked suddenly. "I saw your body when I returned to the temple."
"Titus's body," David lied easily. "You saw Titus's body, and that of his bodyguard."
"I don't know him," Gabrielle's thought informed him. "He wasn't at the temple when I was there. At least, I didn't see him?"
David looked at the new vampire with detached curiosity.
The slender vampire stepped closer, studying David closely. A smile began to creep across his thin features. A knowing smile!
"You are not the Lord Nickoli." He said with complete certainty.
Imani looked at David and Gabrielle for one long moment, then her eyes went blood red and she screamed a cry that would wake the dead.
In one, the three vampires attacked.
David had a split second of amusement when Gabrielle's mind rang in his head.
The two met and deflected the attack. The three vampires went tumbling away, coming up on their feet and swooping in again, fangs extended, mouths frothing with rage and thirst.
David gave up all pretense at playing the part of Nickoli and went to his own style of combat. The uncharacteristic change in the attacks confused the vampires for a few precious moments, long enough for David to land a devastating blow against the one who had seen through their bluff.
Seftus felt the steel of David's sword slash in his belly once, twice, a third time, and then his head went sailing into the darkness.
Gabrielle tumbled across the sand with Imani's hands grasping for her throat or shoulders, her fangs descending to bite, pulling back and descending again as she tried to latch onto her enemy.
Sindis pressed David steadily back towards the massive sloping side of the Great Pyramid, her claws slashing in at him again and again, her eyes blazing like fiery embers.
Instead of taking the offensive, David fought defensively, keeping the vampire at bay.
"Don't make me destroy you, Sindis!" he shouted desperately.
He caught the woman's wrists and held her at bay, his temporary preternatural strength evening the odds of the fight.
Her foot kicked up into his chest and he bounced against the limestone casing of the Pyramid with a velocity that would have killed him if he were not in his vampiric state.
He slid back to the ground and looked up at her, his eyes going red.
"You're pushing me!" he warned her in an inhuman growl.
Sindis's foot shot in again. David rolled away and the foot blasted a chunk of the Pyramid's smooth surface to powder.
David was over and on his feet in an instant.
"Fine!" he roared. "You want to dance? Let's dance!"
This time, when David attacked, he didn't hold back. The blows landed so quickly that the Amazon fighter was struck down in a matter of moments. She went skidding into the darkness, screaming in rage.
David, eyes alight with red fury, leapt nearly twenty yards through the air after her. She rolled away as his knee slammed into the stone on the ground. Spider webs of cracks sprouted from the impact with a sickening crunch, then he was up and upon her again, beating her steadily and relentlessly back towards the confrontation between Gabrielle and Imani.
Something suddenly screamed in his mind and he recognized it from his earlier experience. The shark like frenzy of blood lust!
With a series of brutal strikes he knocked Sindis to the ground and snapped one of her legs. The Amazon went down with a cry of pain. She looked up at him in fury as she willed her injury to regenerate.
David leapt through the air towards the other two battling creatures.
Gabrielle's eyes were a brilliant yellow, rimmed in red. Her eye teeth were extended and she held Imani down. She raised her head high, like a serpent preparing to strike.
David caught her and threw his wife off to the side.
Gabrielle landed with feline grace and rolled over onto all fours, her eyes fixed on David with predatory fury.
"No!" David shouted.
Gabrielle stared at Imani as she came darting around a fallen tomb. She hissed in rage.
David also turned and held out his hand.
"Onobis Illuminotis!" David shouted in a commanding voice, and suddenly, Imani's flesh began to char. She fell back and scooted across the sand out of reach of the strange spell. Her flesh burned as if exposed to the light of the sun, and yet there was no light.
Sindis came running up and also crashed into the invisible barrier. Crying out in frustration, she also retreated.
"Gabrielle!" David turned back to her, snapping her attention from the two stricken vampires.
"Look at me," he said more slowly. Her eyes fixed on him as if he would make satisfying prey.
"It's Blood Madness!" Imani called to him. "You cannot stop it! You must destroy her, or she will kill everyone within a hundred leagues of this place!"
David's eyes didn't waver.
"Look at me," he said more slowly.
Gabrielle's head twitched as the thought echoed through her mind. Somewhere in the back of David's own mind, he began to understand this unusual link between them. They had both shared in the blood of the same vampire, and so were linked in a way that the others did not share. Gently, he tried to push his mind past her animalistic fury. He reached in and found the gentle humanity in her soul and felt it, like cool summer rain on his skin.
"Look at me…"
David raised his other hand in her direction. His delicate link established, he spoke with both his mind and his voice.
"Think, Gabrielle," he said slowly. "Onobis Sentius."
Imani watched this stranger with amazement. His voice was the same commanding voice of her father creator, and yet it was filled with a power of command that Nickoli himself had never possessed.
David's eyes bored into Gabrielle's with soft intensity.
"Onobis Sentius," he said again.
Again her head twitched slightly as if the thought of those words hurt her.
Gabrielle's body began to tense as if for a spring. The words reverberated in her mind, masking out everything, including her frenzied rage.
Her head dropped towards the ground, her body shaking.
"Gabrielle?" David asked softly – almost pleading. "Come back to me?"
All the tension seemed to leave Gabrielle's body. Her hissing became an exhausted rasping for breath. When she raised her head again, her eyes were still fierce and demonic in their light, but they were green, and the fangs had receded.
"Onobis Sentius?" she croaked.
David smiled and went to her.
"That's my girl," he said and he wrapped his arms around her.
Imani and Sindis, still healing from their wounds watched this in amazement.
"Do you know how many of us I have had to destroy because of the Blood Madness?" she asked in awe. "Not even my Nickoli could accomplish what you just did?"
"Doesn't matter!" Sindis spat.
David's eyes flashed on the crippled Amazon. "If I wanted you dead!" he spat at her. "Then you'd be dead!"
Sindis said nothing. She simply stared at David with utter contempt.
David held her gaze for a moment, and then rose.
"Fine!" he said angrily. "Enough of this!"
He retrieved his sword and stood over the Amazon, his eyes boring down at her angrily. He looked more like a disapproving father than an infuriated warrior.
He pointed his sword at her neck, and then flipped the weapon, catching the blade and extending the hilt to her.
"Here," he said.
Sindis looked at the hilt before her. Her hand wrapped about it.
"If you feel that my defeating your sister in honorable combat will not be satisfied until you've taken my life, then, fine. Take it."
He released the blade and stepped back, his hands clasping behind him.
"No!" Gabrielle cried hoarsely. She struggled to rise, but failed.
Sindis got to her feet, her eyes boring into David's with anger.
She held the tip of the blade at his chest.
"Consider one thing," David said calmly. "What will you gain by this?"
"Revenge!" Sindis hissed at him.
David shook his head regretfully.
"Revenge?" he repeated. "No, that's not it."
He looked at her for a moment, and then he sighed in resolution.
"You won't bring Yania back," he said. "You won't replace the love you have for her. You'll gain a black hole where your heart used to be. Where Yania still is, if you stopped long enough to feel her. Yes, I took your sister's life. I can't undo that. But you? You will kill her soul. That is what you'll gain. That's all you'll gain."
He nodded, and dropped to his knees. "Do as you will."
Sindis looked down at him, kneeling patiently, waiting for her blow to fall. Then her eyes fixed on the weapon in her hand.
One stroke. One swing and her search would be over. She would have what she desired. She would have the very thing that she had sold her soul to achieve.
Then her eyes flicked to Gabrielle, still struggling to move, her strength completely spent. She saw the pain in Gabrielle's eyes. The sheer, torture of that moment seemed to break something in her chest. Instantly, a child like look of memory flooded into her eyes.
Gabrielle was pleading with her silently, her head shaking in desperate fear.
When she looked also at Imani, the elder vampire was staring at this man with undisguised awe. No, this was not her Nickoli, but that didn't seem to matter.
The hands grasping the hilt of the weapon began to tremble. Sindis raised it to strike, her face a mask of battling emotions. She held the blade aloft, the edge shimmering in the moonlight.
Something like a sob burst from her lungs, and the weapon fell to the ground with a clatter.
She also sank to her knees in front of David. When he looked back up, she was staring at him with a mixture of realization mixed with fear.
"In one of the countries I have traveled," David said gently. "There is a custom, when one family harms another. Know that I am sorry for the sister I have taken from you. In payment of this debt, I offer myself as a brother to you, to serve in her stead."
When she looked into his eyes, she saw the honest pain within them, just before he bowed his head.
Tears of blood welled up in her eyes as she saw him kneeling there. In that moment, the final rage snapped and melted away into grief. She reached out a hand to touch his shoulder and then fell into his arms, sobbing.
When David finally looked up at Imani, her gaze was cold.
"You are not my Nickoli," she said in a grating hiss. "Yet you are? Who are you, really?"
David looked thoughtful for a moment. "I am," he said at last. "A descendant? A reincarnation? Maybe a Great Grandson, nine hundred times removed? I don't really know." He sighed wearily. "Does it really matter?"
Imani was about to respond when suddenly, both he and Gabrielle clutched their hands to the sides of their heads and cried out in agony.
The very ground beneath their feet began to shake. A deep rumbling noise could be heard from deep within the bowels of the earth.
Gabrielle's and David's minds were on fire. A single word seemed to echo through the furthest recesses of their brains!
Imani and Sindis looked at them in shock and horror as the smooth stones of the outer face of the pyramids riddled with cracks and began to fall away like an avalanche. Something high above seemed to pop, and then the massive capstone came tumbling down the side of the pyramid, right at them!
The last thing David remembered was a stray thought.
"Utanhk! You idiot!" Then the world twisted violently and everything went black.
He felt the wind in his face in a way that he had almost forgotten. The air was whipping through his hair. Beneath him he heard the unforgettable sound of Rosie, thundering contentedly down a long dark road, as she had done with him countless times in the past. He felt the smooth feel of the hand grips beneath his fingers, the simple smooth response as he twisted the throttle.
He raised his ankle to rest on the highway bar and breathed deeply of the cool fresh air.
The constellation of Orion hung in the sky ahead of him, brighter than the other stars.
A distant memory flashed into his mind. A part of a drunken conversation with Dusty, now eons in his past.
"When you ride, go full speed till you see God," he said smiling. "Then turn left!"
David smiled. Why had that thought entered his mind, of all things?
He fixed his eyes on the road ahead, and then he saw it, rising monolithic in the distance. It was a massive stone edifice, in the shape of a squared arch. It was covered in hieroglyphic inscriptions, and seemed to stretch all the way up to the stars themselves.
David recognized the structure from a mural he had seen earlier. One of the seven gates that led to Osirus's Hall of Judgment!
"Oh, Hell no!" David said aloud.
His foot slammed down on the rear brake and Rosie screeched to a halt, somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
He dismounted and looked about, stepping forward a few paces.
Looking back, he saw another stone archway behind him. Had he already passed through that one? If so, how many had he already passed before he realized where he was? He stepped to the edge of the road and looked down, seeing only empty space. It were as if the road he traveled was a simple thread through the nothingness between life and death. He stepped quickly back, overcome by a sudden sense of vertigo he had never experienced before.
Something akin to panic began to rise within him. He forced that down and focused his mind.
"Panicking will do you no good," he thought. "Think, dammit! Think!"
His eyes fell back on Rosie, sitting patiently, lights shining in the darkness like eyes. The engine rumbled expectantly.
"Go full speed until you see God…"
David turned back to face the arch before him and a sudden fury blossomed in his soul.
"This was supposed to be my god damned honeymoon!" He shouted angrily. His voice vanished into the void without so much as an echo.
He paced back and forth his wrath burning in his heart. Again, his eyes fell on Rosie.
"Go full speed until you see God…"
He looked back and forth between the arch and his motorcycle, those words echoing in his memory like some form of subtle plea.
Pursing his lips, he took another look at the arch, the defiant fire burning white hot within him now.
"Alright," he nodded to the edifice. "Alright, you son of a bitch!"
He strode purposefully towards the bike and settled onto the seat.
The engine roared a few times as he stared ahead at the road before him.
"You and me, Rosie," he said aloud to the bike. "Willie the Wimp, one more time!" Then he shouted to the road ahead. "You want me! You got it!"
The engine roared and smoke erupted from the rear tire as Rosie thundered forward.
The wind around him became a hurricane as he cycled through the gears, engine wailing like the cry of some angered beast. His long coat flapped behind him like black demonic wings. He thundered through the next arch and instantly he was in daylight. Desert stretched out on all sides with only this single ribbon of black running straight and true into the horizon.
"Come on!" David cried out.
He saw another arch looming in the distance and passed through it without even slackening his speed. He watched the speedometer climb past one hundred and thirty, beginning to turn all the way around back to the zero position.
The dividing line was a single white blur beneath his tires, the wind drowning out the thunder of the engine as he pressed on. He saw nothing but the blacktop ahead of him.
The fourth arch whipped past him and he was once again in the pitch dark of night. This time, Orion and the moon blazed down, nearly as bright as day, bathing him alone in silvery light.
"Go full speed until you see God…"
Ahead he saw another arch coming to him. He centered the bike on the blur of white bisecting the road.
"You got gate crashers in the Underworld?" he roared. His right hand cranked back on the throttle as if he could open it even further. Beneath him, Rosie howled in defiance.
The arch rushed up to meet him. Beyond it he could see the faint flicker of torchlight in the Hall of Judgment. He caught a glimpse of movement beyond the entrance.
"Go full speed until you see God…Then turn left!"
"Forget turning," David growled.
At the last moment, David stood up on the pegs and leapt clear of the road. Rosie shot like a missile, up several stairs, left the ground, and vanished in a fiery crash as she passed the threshold of the archway. David looked back at the sight, his laughter bursting from him in a mad cackle.
"Screw you!" He thundered before he vanished into the blackness.
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