A Matter of Honor

 The cart bounced along the deeply rutted track that had once been another road leading into Tripolis. After a while, it became impossible to continue that way. The road had been overgrown with brush and brambles, sometimes vanishing altogether in a wall of foliage that they had to cut their way through.

  Eventually, Gabrielle and David were forced to lift the crude stretcher out of the cart and leave their loaned beast of burden behind.

  The latter part of the morning and into the afternoon, the land became hillier and thickly forested.  Thick green carpeted the land as far as the eye could see, and layers of deep green leaves blocked out most of the sunlight.

  Gabrielle’s pace began to slow, as if she were becoming reluctant to continue and David could sense that it was more than their shared burden that was slowing them.

  Her eyes continuously scanned the thick foliage about them, or watched in the trees above, as if she expected something to rise up from the green.

  David noted this, and his own senses began to sharpen. His eyes also searched the trees from behind the mirrored red lenses of his sunglasses. She shifted the large pack at his back, checked his bow and quiver for the umpteenth time and adjusted his grip on the back end of the stretcher.  The trail they were following was little more than a deep furrow between lines of wild plants. It was more like a game trail that wound in between massive tree trunks.

  “Sweetheart?” David asked as he followed. “Do you know where you’re going?”

  Gabrielle stopped at a short crest in the rolling landscape, a slightly haunted expression on her face.

  “I know exactly where I am,” she said quietly.  Her green eyes stared about her filled with images from her past.

  David edged closer to her. “You okay?”

  Gabrielle looked back at him, her green eyes wide.  She took a deep breath and sighed.

  “I feel like I’m walking around in a deserted house,” she said. “Everything’s been abandoned.” She pointed. “This way.”

  She led him through the forest, stopping occasionally to search the trees, as if she expected some ghost to rise up from the ground to confront her.

  She paused as something crunched beneath her booted foot.  Gently, they set the body down. David stepped next to her and looked over her shoulder.

  She held a badly deteriorating circular frame, strung with sinew and holding what was left of some flat decorated beadwork and wood.

  “Reminds me of a Native American dream catcher,” David commented.

  Gabrielle looked down at it, gently wiping some of the thicker muck from the surface, and then she reverently hung it back in its place, beneath a thick horizontal branch.

  “What’s it mean?” David asked.

  “It’s a warning sign,” Gabrielle said grimly. “It says, ‘turn back now’.”

  David looked at the sign for a minute and shrugged. “Pretty decorative way to say ‘no trespassing’.”

  They picked up the stretcher and continued down a gentle incline toward the sound of running water. The sounds of the birds and other animals seemed to fade away behind them, as if they were fearful of entering this area.

  David noted that Gabrielle was becoming more and more apprehensive with every step. They reached a small, noisy stream, and there, they set the stretcher down again and rested. Gabrielle knelt before the water and drank, her eyes never leaving the thick wall of foliage on the opposite bank.

  David knelt beside her and also refilled his water skin.

  “I don’t know about you,” he said softly. “But I feel eyes boring into the back of my head.”

  Gabrielle nodded. “We’re being watched.”

  David’s finger surreptitiously unsnapped the tie down on his bowie knife.

  “Good guys?’ David asked. “Or bad guys?”

  “I don’t know, yet,” Gabrielle whispered. They took up the stretcher again and began following the stream up towards the base of a large cliff. They could see the white foam of a waterfall in the distance and heard its roaring as a gentle thrum from where they were.

  David’s mirrored glasses continuously turned from side to side, watching for any potential threat. His mind screamed out “danger!” Still, there was no movement from the surrounding shadows.

 “Left side,” Gabrielle said quickly.

  David glanced in that direction and caught the subtle shift in the foliage as a branch quivered. He spied a shape slipping past an opening n the leaves. Whatever it was, it was definitely human in shape. Then he saw a similar shift in the shadows to his right.

  “Right side, too,” he replied. “What’s the plan?”

  “Just stay with me,” Gabrielle said. “We’re almost there.”

  “Almost where?” David asked.

 They emerged from the forest into a large clearing. All about them were the remains of ancient wooden buildings, most fallen to the ground in heaps of rotting timbers.

  In the center was an old fire pit, charred logs could be seen, rotting at the outer edge.

 David gazed about in surprise and let a low whistle escape his lips.

  “Well, well,” he said as they gently set the stretcher down again.

  She stood in the center of the ruins, her gaze alive with vivid remembrance.

  David stood beside her, his eyes also scanning the ruins critically. “Looks like no one’s been here for quite some time?”

  She said nothing. Her eyes scanned the surrounding ruins intently.

  “Gabrielle?” David called quietly after her, and he followed.  “Hey? You doing alright?”

  Gabrielle looked back at him and smiled, her expression was one of regret. She shuddered slightly.

  “I’ll be alright,” she said.

  “I hope so,” David replied. “Because we have at least two stalkers out there and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more of them.”

  Gabrielle looked out past her husband and nodded.

  Stepping away from the stretcher, Gabrielle raised both of her arms and clasped her hands over her head.

  “What are you doing?” David asked.

  “Put your hands over your head, like this,” Gabrielle instructed.

 “But –“

  “Just do it!” Gabrielle insisted.

  Without understanding why, David raised his hands and mimicked Gabrielle’s posture.

  The two of them backed toward the fire pit, which was as close to the center of the ruins as could be. Their eyes constantly scanned the high branches surrounding the village.  Back when Gabrielle had been here last, the forest had been kept at bay, so no one could approach the place without being seen by the Amazons who stood watch in the towers that lined the perimeter. Those towers were gone, and the forest had reclaimed most of the surrounding land.

   Suddenly, the forms of several figures either rose from the tall grasses or dropped from the high branches with amazing grace and agility. All of them were female and all of them were armed.

  In a matter of a couple of seconds, the two of them were surrounded.

  David saw several archers wielding crossbows all aiming at him, and he squeezed his hands together harder.

  “Hold your fire!” Gabrielle called out. “We surrender.”

  Several f the women moved up closer and stripped Gabrielle and David of their weapons.

  The one standing before David was young and slim, with wide blue eyes and long waves of blondish brown hair. She removed his bow, quiver and knife before patting him down for concealed weapons. As her search came close to the front of his pants, David smiled.

  “You don’t know me that well yet,” he said sternly as he took a step back.

  He felt the point of an arrow, or some other sharp implement in his side when he moved.

  “On second thought,” He continued. “You seem like a nice girl?”

 He submitted to the rest of the search.

  Gabrielle watched him carefully and watched these young ‘Amazons’ even more closely. There was something in the way they handled David that made her nervous.

  One of the women yanked David’s arms down roughly and pulled his knapsack off him almost flinging him to the ground.

  “Take it easy,” David growled.

  “Which of you is in charge here?” Gabrielle asked suddenly.

  At the commanding sound of her voice, all the women froze, looking over at her. Gabrielle let her hands drop back to her sides and looked sidelong at the two young ladies watching her, and the swords in their hands. Poorly maintained swords, she noted.

  One of the girls, a slender one with fiery red hair and fierce green eyes stepped up before her.

  “I am,” she said with cockiness that Gabrielle actually found amusing.

  “And this is how you treat a sister Amazon?” Gabrielle asked angrily.

  “Sister?” the young woman replied. Then her cockiness seemed to melt as she gazed into Gabrielle’s eyes. She swallowed suddenly and took a step back.

  “What is your name?” Gabrielle asked.

  “Taryn,” the girl replied.

  Gabrielle looked over at the others who had begun rummaging through David’s large knapsack.

  “Leave my property alone!” she barked. Instantly, they all stopped.

  “This man is a friend,” Gabrielle said to Taryn. “And he is under my protection. You will not harm him.”

  “He is a man, trespassing upon our sacred lands.” Taryn replied as some of her confidence began to resurface. “It is up to Queen Alia, if he lives or dies.”

  “Dies?” David asked, his eyebrows rising.

  Gabrielle smiled coldly. “Queen Alia?” she asked in a tone that stopped just shy of mocking the person and the title. “We’ll see.”

  Taryn looked back at the four women surrounding David.

  “Bind him,” she commanded. “And bring his weapons.”

  David’s wrists were bound before him, and his bow, quiver, knife, and sword were bundled together and taken away.

  “Can I get a receipt for those?” David asked lightly.

  The girl taking the weapons looked at him uncertainly as he smiled.

  Four other women collected the stretcher and began moving off through the forest.

  David shrugged. He looked expectantly at Gabrielle.

  Hands shoved him roughly and the party began moving through the forest once more.

  David held his bound hands before him, level with his belt.  He slipped his finger underneath the buckle and removed the small knife concealed there, sawing away at his bonds as they moved. Gabrielle looked back at him and saw the subtle movement. She smiled slightly and gave a subtle nod, showing that she understood. At the same time, she also told him, silently, to be patient.

  As the party moved through the dense woods, David noted signs of recent occupation. Some of the thicker undergrowth had been cleared away in such a manner as to make it appear that nothing had been done, but still allow for passage. A few feet to either side, and a person wandering alone would have become hopelessly entangled in thick hedges and other clawing growths. He smiled as he felt the slight pop from the thongs about his wrists and quickly slid the blade back into concealment while holding the two cut ends with his little fingers.

   They were higher up the ridge now, on a narrow series of switchbacks that led up to a wide flat shelf. Gabrielle could see several buildings resting in that plain, most of them crudely, though recently constructed.

  “Yes,” She thought critically. “They are Amazons, or at least trying to be.”

  Something in her gut began to knot uncomfortably as she continued up.

  “What tribe are you from?” Taryn asked as they walked. Now that the man was bound and a prisoner, she seemed willing to be a bit more personable.

  Gabrielle looked at the young woman, but said nothing.

  The young woman eyed her darkly and smiled. “Very well,” she said. “You don’t have to speak to me, but you will speak to the queen.”

  Gabrielle’s mind worked furiously as she remembered the old laws of the Amazon Nation, preparing for her confrontation with this new queen.

  They entered the village, if it could be called that. As they moved down a main path between several buildings, David gave them a quick inspection and sighed inwardly.

  “Amateurs,” he thought. “One good wind storm and half these shacks are going over.”

  As he looked, it was apparent that several other structures had already collapsed recently. He remembered the fierce thunderstorm several days back, How Gabrielle had been nervous as the inner walls of the light tent rippled in the wind.

  “If you like?” he said, leaning closer to the girl on his right. “I could recommend a decent builder to you?” Something sharp jabbed him in the back. He looked back at another dark haired young woman.

  “You, on the other hand,” David retorted. “You’re on your own.”

  He noticed a concealed smile on the face of the girl that had confiscated his weapons. She covered it up quickly as her big blue eyes flicked in his direction.

  He continued to maintain a light attitude towards his captivity. He didn’t bother explaining that it was really a reaction to stress and he was actually quite concerned. He didn’t see any way out of this situation that wouldn’t involve a battle of some kind. And a fight was the last thing he was ready or willing to initiate.

  “Hell hath no fury,” he muttered to himself.

  The procession moved beyond the shanty’s and through a large clearing dominated by a central fire pit, reminiscent of the abandoned village below.

  Opposite that was the opening to a cave. Two women, strong and proud, stood guard at the entrance, each holding a long, wicked looking spear. These women were obviously more important. They were cleaner, healthier, and the weapons they held were well cared for. They were also older than the average.

  “Interesting,” David thought. His mind began to formulate theories, as it always did when presented with a puzzle.

  They passed into the cave, which was lit by torches. After a good distance, they came out again, into a vast, circular chamber. Torches were spaced at regular intervals in the wall, and the noise of running water echoed musically about them.

  David looked up towards the ceiling. It vanished in the deeper shadows.

  “Nice place,” he said quietly. Unfortunately, the echo in the chamber amplified his voice and the sound carried to a large flat stage set towards the rear of the room.

  “Why thank you,” a silky female voice said from the shadows. A figure emerged next to the large wooden throne on the stage. She was tall, slender, with dark skin and hair. She studied David with dark, almost hypnotic, brown eyes.

  David was taken aback at how beautiful she was. The Queen stepped down to the floor and raised the cover that obscured the body on the stretcher. Her eyes went dark for only a moment as she fixed on David. Then, she folded herself into the throne and studied him for a long time.

  “Strangers are not welcome in my lands,” she said simply. “Males, especially, are not welcome.” She waved a dismissive hand in David’s direction.

  Gabrielle stepped forward. She placed her right fist over her chest and bowed. “Forgive me, but the last time I traveled in these lands, men were welcome in the company of one of us. He is my responsibility, and we have broken no laws in coming here.”

  Alia’s gaze went hard. “You don’t consider murder a crime then?” she said. “He is the one who took young Yania’s life, is he not?”

  Gabrielle was shocked. There was no way that the Queen should have known that.

  Still, didn’t bat an eye. “He is.”

  “Then he is subject to the punishments according to our ancient laws.”  Alia stated simply.

  She seemed to consider for a moment, and then she looked at David again. “Why do you hide your face behind those?” She gestured to one of his guards. “Remove them.”

  The girl that had searched David earlier stepped up before him and looked at the glasses nervously.

  “It’s okay,” he whispered. “They’re hooked over my ears. Just pull them forward off my face.”

  Gingerly she removed the glasses, revealing his deep, thoughtful brown eyes. “Mind you don’t break them, please?”

  Then he looked up at Alia again. “Is My Lady satisfied?” he asked.

  At that question, Alia’s eyes darkened dangerously, and David read a shift in the energy of her aura. Her fingers gripped the arms of the throne tightly.

  “Satisfied?” she asked, barely containing her temper. “A sister lies at my feet, killed by your hands, and you ask if I am satisfied?”

  She seemed on the verge of ordering his immediate execution when Gabrielle spoke up.

  “Queen Alia,” she said carefully, glancing over at David. “Even in our darkest periods, we never held the victor responsible for defeating one of us in an honorable fight. Yania was part of the party that raided Tripolis. She attacked my friend, and forced him to defend himself. At the least, his returning of Yania’s body to her sisters should be honored. If I recall, he is the first to do so in our long history?” She stopped suddenly as something suddenly flipped in her belly.

  “And that should free him of our justice?” Alia said coldly. “No man may leave here, regardless of his deeds.”

  She nodded towards one of the guards who immediately drew a sword.

  “What?” David said suddenly. “Not even a chance to defend myself? Not very sporting, Highness.”

  “Sporting?” Alia’s smile was one of scorn. “You feel you deserve a warrior’s trial by combat?”

  “And you don’t?” David replied. “Keep it short and simple, run me through and that’s it?”

  “You don’t approve?” Alia smiled.

  “If it involves me getting killed without the opportunity to defend myself?” David countered. “You better believe I don’t approve!” He glanced over at Gabrielle and saw the slightly pained, slightly confused look on her face.

  “A peasant?” Alia continued.

  “I never said he was a peasant,” Gabrielle said quietly, forcing the slight churn down.

  “Noble?” Alia’s eyebrows rose. “Warrior?”

  Gabrielle smiled and looked back at him. “Priest.”

  Alia laughed out loud. “A priest with a sword, knife and bow? Which deity do you serve? Most priests I know are not permitted to carry weapons of that sort.”

  “You wouldn’t know of her,” David replied.

  “Her?” Alia’s laugh faded. “You serve a Goddess?”

  “The Goddess of the Crossroads,” David said. “I am forbidden to speak her true name outside our temple.”

  The idea that this “priest” served a female deity intrigued her. Alia held up a hand to stay her guard.

  “Well,” she said thoughtfully. “I am interested in how a priest would fight without offending his Goddess.”

  “As a rule,” David said with a sly smile. “I am forbidden from inflicting violence on another. Except in self defense.”

  The statement was not entirely true. When David had first arrived in Gabrielle’s time, from his place two thousand years in the future, he had been forced to kill several men that had taken Gabrielle as a prize for the enigmatic warlord Gurkhan. It was a small line that David justified by telling himself he had been defending someone helpless at the time. It was a fine line that he walked along, but it seemed to suffice. A short while later, his magical abilities as a priest had been returned to him with no question of penance for the act.

  “Indeed?” Alia rose from her throne and walked over to David, standing before him and looking into his eyes. Suddenly, her open hand slammed across David’s cheek with a loud whack.  David’s head rocked to one side. He licked his lip and looked back up into Alia’s eyes. “For Yania,” she hissed.

  Gabrielle winced in sympathy at the blow.

  “Ouch,” David said neutrally. “That wasn’t very nice.”

  “What?” Alia said. “Why didn’t you defend yourself?”

  She looked down at his bound hands and smiled. “Oh, I forgot.”

  She wound up again and swung for his other cheek. Instantly, David’s hand rose and blocked the second blow easily.

  David smiled.

  “Happens once, shame on you,” he chided her. “Happens twice? Shame on me.”

  The cut leather thong fell to the floor.

  Instantly, the guards around him had their weapons drawn and pointed at him.

  Gabrielle tensed visibly, but David seemed to remain perfectly calm.

  Only Gabrielle could discern the tension in David’s posture, but that was because she had spent as much time with him as she had. To any other onlooker, he seemed completely unconcerned.

  “How dare you touch me!” Alia hissed in outrage.

  David shrugged. “You started it.”

  Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed. David’s mouth: A one-ingredient recipe for trouble. The churning lurched within her again and she suppressed a gasp in shock.

  Alia, taken aback at David’s impudence, stepped a few paces back and glared at him. Then a wicked smile crept across her face.

  “Take him out and throw him in the pit,” she ordered. Soft female hands grasped roughly to his arms.

  David looked over at Gabrielle, who could only shrug.  David’s expression was one of concern, not for himself, but for Gabrielle. She subtly shook her head.

  Gabrielle looked up at the queen, unsure how to proceed. The fact that she already seemed to know much about the incident told her she should choose her next words very carefully. Fortunately, Alia needed no prompting.

  “This man has killed one of us,” she said evenly. She looked at Gabrielle intently and a smile just touched the corners of her mouth.

  “Since Yania gave you her Right of Caste,” she said. “Then you shall execute the man at noon, two days from now.”

  The entire world shrank in on Gabrielle as she stood there. Her eyes went wide in horror.

  David was led out into the light of day and over toward the far edge of the flat clearing. There, dug out of the hard earth were four large, square holes, covered with rough bamboo doors.

  “What is this?” David asked. “A remake of the Deer Hunter?”

  “Shut up,” One of his escorts said.  Another of them lifted the bamboo trap door and David was unceremoniously shoved into the dark hole.  The lid slammed back down above his head.

  Two of the guards stepped to the back of the small bamboo cage, each of them picked up a corner of a thick, woven cover.

  David looked up through the bamboo bars and cocked his head.

  “You know,” he said. “You put that on and it might get a touch stuffy in here?”

  The two women pulled the cover over the top of the pit.

  David sighed, looking at the dark, cramped quarters.

  “What we have here,” he said in a thick southern drawl. “Is a failure to communicate?”

  The cage was little more than the dimensions of a short shark cage. Nestled in a square pit not much larger. The earth around him was damp and dank, and the air was permeated with moisture. In the blazing sun, that moist air would get quite uncomfortable.

  “Damned sweat lodge,” David muttered. He looked up at the cover above him.

  “Hey!” he called. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a drink, is there?”

  There was no answer.

  “Didn’t think so,” David muttered again. “Oh well. I suppose there’s only one thing to do.”

  He settled himself down as comfortably as he could, sitting cross-legged in the center of his confinement.  He took several deep breaths and closed his eyes, allowing his mind and body to descend into that blissful universe of meditation. Instantly, he felt the subtle pulling as his mind and spirit lifted from his body and back out into the light of the world above. Ordinarily, he would enter a dream walk. On this occasion, however, he needed information. An astral projection was the perfect way to move about the village undetected. His isolation in the dark pit provided the perfect opportunity.

  In a matter of a few minutes, he was back in the cave. He materialized just in time to hear Alia pass judgment.

  He could also hear Gabrielle’s thoughts.

  “How did she know about the Right of Caste?”

  David stared back and forth between the queen and his wife. He could see fine tendrils of energy flowing from the queen’s head, like faint wisps of smoke. One of them writhed back behind her, caressing the figure of another woman, standing in the shadows. Her face was covered by an elaborate mask in the image of a raven. The second one was snaking through the air and gently touching Gabrielle’s forehead.

“I’ll be a son of a – “ David began.  Then he floated closer to his wife and concentrated on placing himself and his wife in a protective bubble.

  As he watched, the tendril of energy suddenly broke free from Gabrielle and writhed impotently in the air as it was pushed further and further away from her.

  The queen blinked in momentary surprise.

  “This man is dear to you, I gather?” she asked. She blinked several more times and Gabrielle felt the sudden weight she hadn’t even realized she was feeling, drop away. Her mind sharpened instantly.

  “He is a friend,” She answered warily. There was no way she was going to introduce him as her husband.

  Alia seemed momentarily lost. Her eyes looked away from Gabrielle, and then back at her, as if trying to see through something.

  “Your friend has murdered one of our sisters,” Alia said uncertainly. “One of your sisters! He must pay the price!”

  “He is paying for it, my queen,” Gabrielle said desperately. “Every waking moment.”

  Alia was unimpressed. She looked at Gabrielle again with renewed anger and a touch of something else. “My judgment remains. In two days, you shall carry out the sentence or share his fate. The choice is yours!”

  She rose and departed, followed by the enigmatic warrior in the raven mask.

  Gabrielle stood there, completely stunned. The dread roiled in her belly and she suddenly bent double and choked.

  “What was that?” she thought to herself. “That’s never happened before?” The retching sensation passed and she got to her feet. Eyes stared at her curiously in the dim chamber. Finally, one of the Amazons stepped forward.

  “Your quarters are this way,” She gestured towards the exit.

  Her belly still churning slightly, Gabrielle followed the young woman out of the cave and to one of the ramshackle huts on the shelf beyond.

  When she stepped inside, she grimaced. The hut was poorly built out of wood and mud, with a thatched roof, if it could be called that, resting precariously across the top.

  The interior was furnished with a rough sleeping pallet, several chairs, a small table, and a central fire pit. In spite of the heat, a small fire crackled merrily in there now, driving the moisture from the air.

  Gabrielle took the small pot of water from the table and doused the flames. The churning in her belly had subsided, but not vanished. She sat down on the nearest rickety chair and held her head in one hand, while the other rested across her lap. She breathed deeply a she fought to quell the nausea.

  “Are you ill?” her escort asked.

  Gabrielle waited a few moments and then nodded.

  Her escort ducked back out of the shack. She returned a few minutes later with a bowl of some type of stew, a cup, and a jar of wine.

  She dutifully poured the wine into the cup and set the food before her.

  The smell of the cooked meat reached Gabrielle’s nostrils and she winced as she pushed the bowl away. She sipped at the wine and felt the churning ease a little.

  “Thank you,” Gabrielle said gratefully. She looked up at the girl. “What’s your name?”

  The woman stood proudly. “Sindis.”

  “Thank you, Sindis,” Gabrielle repeated.

  “It’s the least I could do,” Sindis replied gratefully. “I should thank you for bringing my sisters killer to us.”

  Gabrielle looked back at the young woman and she knew.

  “Yania was your blood sister, wasn’t she?” Gabrielle asked.

  Sindis nodded. “Thank you for bringing her home. In two days, we will have justice, when you kill the animal that killed Yania.”

  Gabrielle shook her head. “That won’t be justice, Sindis. That will be murder. Your sister died in a fair fight. More than fair, because she was able to attack from behind.”

  “Then why did she fail?” Sindis asked, not wanting to believe it.

  Gabrielle sighed. “Because David is one of the best fighters I’ve ever seen.”

  “He defeated her attack and then killed her,” Sindis growled.

  “No,” Gabrielle said gently. “He defeated her attack and tried to disarm her. Something went wrong.”

  Sindis’s eyes darkened with bitter hatred. “I don’t believe you!” she hissed. “If that priest is as good as you say, then my sister should be alive right now!”

  Gabrielle only held out a hand helplessly. “I don’t have an answer for you, Sindis.”

  “I’ll have my answer when you kill him!” Sindis hissed.

  She turned and stormed out of the shack.

   Gabrielle thought about going after her, but she simply didn’t have the strength.

  “Great,” she muttered. “Just great.”

  “You’re room is a lot better than mine,” a voice echoed in her mind. “What are you bitching about?”

  Gabrielle turned and saw the shimmering form of David materialize before her. He was dressed in the same way as when she had first seen him, long dark coat, blue jeans, boots, and gloves. A cigar was clenched between his teeth. That had been the one thing he missed from his time, his precious cigars.  His eyebrows bounced a couple of times as he took a long drag on the tobacco and then drew it away from his mouth, gazing at it thoughtfully.

  “I need to find some wild tobacco, and soon,” his voice continued in her mind. “I really miss these.”

  “David?” Gabrielle whispered in shock. “What?”

  “Don’t speak out loud,” David said, holding up a hand. “Just think your words and we can talk as long as we need to. I don’t want to tip my hand to Alia before it’s time.”

  “What are you talking about?” Gabrielle thought, trying furiously to keep her mind focused. “And what in Tartarus are you – how are doing this?”

  “Astral Projection,” David replied easily. “A particular specialty of mine. I used to use it to freak out my friends, back in High School. Never thought it would come in handy like this, though?”

  She frowned and before she could frame her thoughts into the question, David answered her.

  “My quarters are a bit smaller and less hospitable. I feel like a reject from Cool Hand Luke.”

  “Cool what?”

  David shrugged. “Another reference to my time. Don’t worry about it. In this way, I can conserve my energy physically and still poke my nose about, undetected, see?”

  Gabrielle nodded.

  “It’s a good thing I did, too. It would appear that our friend Alia is a powerful telepath with empathic abilities. If I hadn’t put you in the same bubble as me when I did, she might have learned everything.”

  Gabrielle remembered the heavy sensation, and how it so abruptly ceased.

  “You did that?” she asked.

  David nodded. He crouched down before her, so real and yet not real. She could even smell the pungent tobacco. She gazed at him in wonder.

  “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?” she asked appreciatively.

  David shrugged. “It all comes down to energy. Physical, spiritual, magical, static, hell, it’s the same song, just a slightly different dance.” He grinned broadly. “If I know our little queen, she’ll leave me in my cell for the duration, hoping to bake me to a weakened state, and then try and dispose of me. Boy is she in for a shocker.”

  “What do you know about her,” Gabrielle fumbled for the correct word. “Her kind?”

  “Kind?” David repeated as if tasting the word for the second time in as many days. He nodded. “Yeah, her kind is a good description for this one.” He thought for a moment. “All I can tell you so far is that she is not the one really in charge here. She’s a puppet, leaching her strength and knowledge from someone else. I caught a glimpse of the real boss when I got back to you. Tall woman in dark armor, wearing a bird’s head mask. I think she’s the real power in this place. I could see the tendrils of energy extending from Alia in a couple directions. One of them was probing your mind. The other was fixed on Tall, Dark, and Feathery in the background.”

  “That’s why you got yourself thrown in the pit,” Gabrielle realized. “You needed to be isolated in order to do this!”

  David nodded. “Of course, I wasn’t hoping to get thrown into a four by four cell in the ground, but?” he shrugged. “I think, with the appropriate amount of pressure, I could mess with Alia’s world enough to bring the real leader out into the open.”

  Gabrielle smiled compassionately. “You’re doing it again, you know?”

  David’s looked at her. “Doing what?”

  Gabrielle sighed. “Throwing yourself in between me and danger.”

  David shrugged again. “What are you talking about? I’m the one scheduled to be executed in just over a day – and by my own wife, too!”

  His gaze softened and he smiled, suddenly concerned. “You doing okay? You don’t look so hot.”

 She waved a hand dismissively as she let her other one reach up and rub her temple. “I’m fine. I think.” She looked up at him and smiled. “Do what you need to do.”

  “You’re sure?” David asked, and she could feel his hand resting gently on her knee as he knelt before her.

  “I’m sure.”

 David rubbed his hands together but there was no mirth in the action. “Well, time for the Twilight Zone to start. I just thought I’d pop in and let you know that I’m doing okay. I’ll check back with you later, after I’m done snooping about. Just relax for now.”

  “David,” Gabrielle said nervously. “Please, be careful.”

  David stood up, set the cigar in his teeth, smiled and waved as he faded from sight.



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