By Paully Adams aka Abbaspice1
I have watched as men weave lies as truth, facts as fiction, and simple stories into legends. I too have a story to tell. My story is true; I have nothing to gain, and everything to lose. But I have dwelled in these lands for so long, and I grow weary of mortals making profit from my history. They don't understand Truth; they think so much of themselves that they make the gods look and act like them.
But we are different. Humans are weak at best; fun toys for us to play with and for us to break when we feel like it. Unfortunately, not all of us felt that way. Perhaps if she did, thing would have turned out so differently for the both of us.
Gabrielle wrapped her long lambskin coat around herself as her horse trotted down the solitary road. The sky was grey and a cold breeze nipped at her face, causing her cheeks and nose to be red. The blond bard looked back at her warrior riding Argo Jr., herself wearing her long black coat with the grey fur collar. Looking at the ebony-haired Warrior as she rode her steed, one could never tell that the two had been apart for months. Gabrielle shook away the dark thoughts. They were together again, and that is all that mattered.
"A dinar for your thoughts." Xena stated, causing the young woman to refocus on her. Xena pulled Argo Jr alongside Gabrielle. "You have been quiet."
"So have you."
"Yes, but that is normal for me." She reached out and squeezed the young woman's hand. "You have been quiet since…"
"Do you think we can stay at an inn?" Gabrielle interrupted. "It is rather cold, and I rather not sleep on the ground tonight."
A sad smile pulled at Xena's mouth. She knew Gabrielle's interruption was the Bard's subtle way of telling her to drop the subject. "If we push on, we should hit Ardeal by nightfall."
Gabrielle nodded. "Ardeal it is." Gabrielle pushed her steed ahead.
Xena watched as the Bard put physical distance between them. Since her return from death, things weren't the same between Gabrielle and herself. At first, both were overcome with emotion that they had found a way to defeat Akemi and bring Xena back to the land of the living. Xena swore to herself that she wouldn't let her past come between them again.
*But it has* Xena thought to herself. Since her return, Gabrielle had been unusually quiet. At first, Xena thought it was due to the physical torture that Akemi had put Gabrielle through. She knew that Gabrielle needed to talk if she was gong to heal from the emotional trauma as well. "We both need it." But the Bard wasn't having any of it.
Instead, she would change the subject; interrupting the Warrior whenever she brought up anything to do with Japa and their experiences there. As the weeks wore on, the Bard's temperament didn't change. At times, Xena could look into those eyes, and see them change to grey as the emotional storm threatened to spill over. And within seconds, they would change back to green as the Bard reigned in her emotions.
Xena sighed. Gabrielle was always the one who coaxed Xena to talk about her emotions. Now, the shoe was on the other foot. And the Warrior Princess didn't like it one bit. "Ya!" she cried out as she urged her golden steed to catch up with the battling Bard.
They entered the large town at dusk. The town was dark and dreary, the townsfolk seemed on edge as their eyes glanced at the two strangers and their feet hurriedly scuffled away. Xena looked around and sensing no danger she jumped down from Argo Jr. "Gabrielle, I'll take care of the horses. Why don't you check on a room for us? I'll meet you in the tavern."
Gabrielle nodded her consent, handed her reins and entered the inn. As she entered, she noticed the tavern that was the front room of the inn. It was a single level; the front room had a large fireplace. Several round tables with chairs were scattered in the certain of the room, while long tables with benches lined the left and right walls. Lighted candles were on every table. The long wooden bar jutted out from side of the fireplace. It was clean and well maintained. The unusual thing was there was no one in sight. "Hello?" Gabrielle called out.
A young man in his 28 season entered in from the back. "Hello" he softly spoke. He stopped as his heart skipped a beat as he took in the beauty and strength of the woman in front of him. A kind smile graced his lips. "May I help you?"
Gabrielle nodded. The tall young man was handsome with should length wavy black hair, chestnut eyes, and broad shoulders. "My friend and I would like a room for tonight."
"We have plenty of room." He reached back and grabbed a key. "It's our best room with a private bath. You will get both dinner and breakfast for only 8 dinars."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. She was hoping to get into a haggling match. "I can't argue with that price. How's the food?"
The young man beamed. "Good. We try to keep our prices low since we do not have many strangers who come through here."
"Okay, we'll take it." She counted out 8 dinars. As soon as their hands touched, Gabrielle felt a strange sensation run through her. She looked up at the young man. Seeing no reaction, she assumed her body was just exhausted. "Thanks."
"You are quite welcome." He placed the money into his pockets. "Your room is the last one on the left. Would you like some water for a bath?"
She nodded her appreciation and headed to the room, not noticing that a set of brown eyes followed. The room itself was sparse and clean, with 1 large bed. In front of the bed were a small fireplace and a wooden tub. She threw her saddlebags unto the bed. Her coat was next, revealing a rust-colored, form-fitting full leather armor adorned with silver etchings.
Grabbing a sai, Gabrielle opened the door. The young man smiled at her as he held a couple buckets of steaming water; following behind him was an older bald man who also held the same. They both came in, and the older man placed his buckets by the fireplace. He then turned and stuck his hand out to the Bard. "Hello, I am Uncle Iorgu. Welcome to my establishment!" He vigorously shook her hand. "Did my Demetri introduce himself?"
"Don't uncle me." He mocked whispered to the Bard. "A pretty woman shows up and even at his age he still gets tongued tied."
Gabrielle laughed in spite of herself. "I'm Gabrielle."
"Welcome, welcome! Well Gabrielle, we will start to serve dinner in about 4 candlemarks."
"If you need anything, let us know." With that the older man turned and left the room.
Demetri rolled his eyes. "Sorry about that. But wha he said is true, if you need anything, just ask."
Gabrielle just smile as the young man took off after his uncle.
"Would you like some more port?" Demetri asked.
"No thank you," Gabrielle answered kindly.
Xena shoved her cup into the young man's face. "I would."
Demetri gave the Warrior Princess a small smile before filling her cup. He turned and was about to walk away when his uncle shooed him. He sighed and placed a big smile on his face. "Gabrielle, I hope the meal was to your liking."
"It was great, wasn't it Xena?"
Xena sucked her lips and replied "Peachy" in a not-so-peachy way.
"I'm glad." He beamed a smile for Gabrielle's eyes only. Then he walked back towards the kitchen.
Gabrielle looked at Xena. "Did you have to be so rude?"
"Gabrielle, all you had to do was take a sip and he was over here to refill your cup. I could have died of thirst waiting for him to refill mine."
"I really don't think it was his fault Xena. Demetri is just listening to Uncle Iorgu." Gabrielle turned and smiled towards the older man. The older man smiled back. Xena glared at the older man. He turned and walked briskly into the kitchen.
"What? I didn't do anything."
"He's just playing match-maker." Gabrielle chuckled. "He is very cute."
Xena turned her glare upon Gabrielle. The Bard just smiled. "But he doesn't compare to you." She watched as the glare became a grin.
"So," The Warrior Princess stood up and headed towards the back, "what did happen while I was taking care of the horses?"
Gabrielle walked beside her. "I got the room, that's all."
"And he fell for you just like that." Xena smiled at her partner. "Not that I can blame him."
Gabrielle bumped her shoulder into the Warrior. "Too bad I'm spoken for."
Xena opened the door to their room. After she closed the door, she took a deep breath. "I'm glad to hear you say that. You know, after what happened, I wasn't sure…"
"Xena, why would I bring you back just to dump you?" She turned away and began to remove the top portion of her leathers.
"After what she did to you, I wouldn't blame you if you had."
"Xena, she did it. She manipulated the both of us. Just drop it. Okay?"
"No, not okay." Xena grabbed the Bard's shoulders and turn her around. "Gabrielle, we use to talk. Well, you talked and I listened. Since Japa, we haven't had a real conversation. I don't know what you are thinking anymore." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "And it scares me."
Gabrielle sighed as she looked into the sea-colored eyes of her soulmate. "It is complicated." She paused trying to gather her thoughts. "There is a part of me that is mad at you for even listening to Akemi in the first place. There's a part of me mad at you for not telling me about your plan to die. Another part that is mad that you wouldn't allow me to dump your ashes. And a big part of me hates myself for listening to you." She reached up and caressed Xena's face, hoping her touch would ease the sting of her words. "But I love you Xena. And if I had to do it all again, I would still go through what I did in order to get you back."
"I'm not worth…"
"DON'T SAY IT!" Gabrielle took a calming breath. She needed to break the tension. "You do realize, it was your guilt issues that got us in this mess in the first place." She grabbed Xena's hand "You are worth the world to me. I wish you could see you the way that I do." Gabrielle released Xena's hand and continued to get undress. "I going to take a bath before the water become too cold."
"Mind if I join you?"
"Only if you promise to wash my hair."
Xena began to get undress herself. She stopped when Gabrielle lifted up her shift. On her back was still the imprint of the dragon. But instead of color, the tattoo was filled with scar tissue. No matter how many times she had seen it, the image still brought tears to her eyes. Gently she reached out and touched it. Gabrielle flinched. "Does it still hurt?"
Gabrielle voice was a whisper. "Every day." She reached back and grabbed Xena's hand. She knew even before she could turn around that Xena's eyes would shine, full of unshed tears. "Xena it is not your fault. She did this to hurt the both of us. Besides, it is healing." Without letting go of the Warrior's hand, the petite woman led them to the bath. "How about that hair washing?"
Xena gave Gabrielle a small smirk then climb in behind her. Using her hands as cups, she wetted the blonde head in front of her, then lathered it using the soap. Her ministrations did not stop there as she began to gently lather and massage Gabrielle's neck and back, working her way down and back up again.
Gabrielle moaned her appreciation and leaned back into the Warrior, just enjoying the time together.
The sound of animals shrilling and people yelling woke the two warriors out of their sleep. Gabrielle looked over at Xena, who was already getting her armor and weapons. The petite blond followed suit. The two women ran through the large room of the tavern.
Demetri held a small knife in his hand, trying to fend off his attacker. Right behind the young man, was his uncle, on the ground, blood trickling down the left side of his face. Xena wasted no time, as she flipped through the air, and kicked the intruder away from his intended victims. Xena pulled out her sword, and started to make her way towards the attacker. Much to her surprise, he lifted his head, his eyes glowing with a fierce yellow coloring, and exposed a pair of sharp fangs. The warrior paused as her mind processed this new information. It was all the time he needed, as he quickly turned and fled outside. Xena followed the creature outside.
Gabrielle ran to the old man. "Are you okay?" The old man nodded. "Go." Gabrielle ran outside to help Xena, focused on fighting by her side.
Xena looked around, and saw that some of the creatures were dragging the old and injured villagers towards the woods. "A-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi," she cried as she flipped through the air. She landed on her feet, and then delivered a spinning kick to the head of one creature. Another creature scratched at her sword arm, leaving 4 gashes in her arm. Xena glanced at the wounds before engaging the humanoid with her sword. As the creature lunged at her, Xena thrust her sword forward, embedding the sword into the midsection. Xena kicked him off her weapon, and turned to make sure Gabrielle was okay.
Gabrielle knocked her female opponent down with a low sweep kick. The creature hissed at the petite warrior. Gabrielle twirled her sai, and was about to deliver the knock-out blow.
Seeing that her soulmate was handling things just fine, Xena turned to confront another creature. It was then that someone strong grabbed her sword arm and spun her around. Shock filled Xena's being when the person turned out to be the very creature she had killed earlier. She tried to pull her arm away, but the creature was too strong. He exposed his fangs. She prepared to deliver a blow with her other arm, when he instantaneously released her, and fled into the woods, followed by all the other creatures. Xena turned to call out to Gabrielle, and saw her lying on the ground, clutching her head.
The warrior ran to her partner. "Gabrielle, are you okay?"
Gabrielle barely nods. "Where did that noise come from?"
Xena looked at her questioningly. "What noise?"
The bard looked up at Xena. "You didn't hear it?"
"You must have been hit in the head."
"Xena, I wasn't hit. It was that noise, it hurt my head. I've never heard a sound like that in my life." Slowly she looked around, "Where did they go?"
Xena helped her up. "They ran to the woods. They all took off at once." Xena grabbed the Bard by the elbow. "What did those creatures remind you of?"
"Yeah. We need to find out more about them." The couple returned to the inn, and found that the townsfolk have gathered there, turning the tavern into a make-shift hospice. Xena looked over at the man who was ordering folks around. "I'm going to check with him, and see what he knows. Check on Demetri, and see what you can do here."
Gabrielle nodded, and watched as Xena headed towards the bossy man and then headed to find her target.
The older man eyed the female warrior. "Thank you stranger for your help. A lot of lives were saved."
"What were those things?"
"They are vampari. They attack once every few weeks. Nothing we have tried has worked."
"I stabbed one clear through with my sword. And yet he got up and attacked like nothing had happened."
"We have been dealing with this for almost 4 years now. They appear, grab the old and the weak, and just as sudden as they appear, they disappear."
"How about the other nearby villages? Have they been attacked as well?"
"Yes. We tried to see if there was a pattern, and we have tried to track them. They are just too fast and too strong."
"So they only attack the old and weak?"
"Unfortunately no. And it is better for the old and weak. At least we can recover their bodies." He lowered his voice. "They feed on the old and weak, draining them of their blood. The strong, if they are bitten and survive, may be attacked again. And turn."
"Become one of them. In some cases, those brave souls kill themselves before it can happen. Others are killed by the villagers."
"You kill them?"
"Not in this village, but other villages." He shrugged his shoulders. "It may be the humane thing to do. Better to die as a human, than live forever as one of them." He eyed the warrior. "We appreciated your help. But this isn't your fight. If I were you, I would take myself and your friend as far away from here as possible."
"Appreciate your concern for us, but we ran into something similar to this back home in Greece. We were able to destroy it."
"Greece, you say?"
"Hmm. That is were Helen was from."
The magistrate tilted his head to the back of the tavern. "Demetri's mom." The magistrate pardoned himself, and made his way to another group of people. Xena eyed the young man. Seeing that Gabrielle was talking to him, she made her way out of the tavern, to check the perimeter of the town.
"How is your uncle?"
Demetri looked up from his work. "He is fine and just as ornery as ever. He fussed out the healer and then kicked him out of his room. But he did promise to rest. I know he would like a visit from you."
Gabrielle chuckled. "I will be sure to do that." She nodded to the stacks of cloth on the table. "Need help?"
Demetri smiled brightly. "Yes." He handed her a long strip of cloth. As before, when their hands touch, Gabrielle felt a surge that flowed back and forth between them.
"You okay?" Demetri looked at her with concern in his eyes.
"Yeah, just thinking about the battle today." Gabrielle stood by him silently as she helped rolled strips of cloth into bandages. She could tell from his expression that he was curious. She decided to let him take the lead in the conversation as she thought about how to get the information she wanted from him.
"So where did you two learn to fight like that? Not many people around here have such knowledge."
"Xena taught me. In our line of work and the way we travel, it has helped us."
"You travel a lot? So where is home?"
"Home is where the heart is Demetri. However, I am from a small village in Greece."
"Really, my mom was from there. She died about four winters ago."
"Sorry for your loss."
"Thank you." A small smile graced the young man's lips as memories of his mother played in his head. "She would tell me that Greece was so different from here. She only came here after my dad was killed. He died before I was even born. Uncle Igor insisted that she come here to raise me. He said this was a good place to raise children. She would tell me about women warriors, who lived in villages without men, and about the gods and goddesses. She even told me about other women who were like these creatures that have been attacking us. She would be so surprised to see the vampari, as though her fairy tales came to life."
"Those weren't fairy tales Demetri. The women warriors who live together are called Amazons. I'm Queen of one of the Greek tribes." She giggled as his eyes became big as saucers. "The gods and goddesses did exist. Now there are only two of them. And the women who are similar to the vampari, they were called Bacchai, after their god Bacchus."
Demetri narrowed his chestnut eyes. "I remember now. Mom use to tell me stories about them-- they would lived in caverns, roam the woods for their next victim. If the victim was a man, they would tear him to pieces. If it was a woman, and Bacchus was pleased, they would make her into a Bacchai. They were shape-shifters; they could look like wolves or human. And Bacchus was killed by a Bacchai." He slowly shook his head. "I thought she made up all those stories. We have nothing like that here." He eyed the young woman. "Your land sounds so exciting. I would like to one day visit there, to see the land where my mom comes from."
Gabrielle gave him a small smile, and then focused on making the bandages.
After the wounded were taken care of, the tavern closed for the rest of the day. Gabrielle and Xena decided to eat some travel rations in their room, where they could relax and share information.
"According to the magistrate, the attacks started about 4 years ago."
"Demetri told me that they are called vampari. Wait, did you say 4 years ago?"
"Demetri told me that his mom was from Greece. She told him stories about the amazons, the gods and the Bacchai."
"We need to talk to her. Maybe she knows more."
"We can't; she died 4 years ago. The same time the attacks started." Gabrielle replayed in her mind the conversation she had with Demetri. "She knew a lot about the Bacchai. She even knew that Bacchus was killed by another Bacchai."
"The only way she would have known that Gabrielle is if she was there."
"You don't think she was a Bacchai? All the girls in the cavern turned back human."
"They did. Or so we thought. According to the magistrate, four years ago is the same time that the vampari appeared."
"Do you think she is responsible for the vampari?"
"I don't know Gabrielle. There are some similarities, but just as many differences as well. Bacchai are female, and they can be killed by weapons. According to my source, the old and weak are killed, but it take more than one bite to become a vampari. These things are male and female, and cannot be killed by weapons." Xena reached over and tough Gabrielle's hand. "I need for you to find out as much as you can about Demteri's mom. I'm going to try and track those creatures."
"No way! I'm coming with you." Gabrielle snatched back her hand. "I cannot believe that in all this time, you are trying to leave me in the village."
"Gabrielle, Demetri likes you. Use that to your advantage."
"I have a better idea, why don't you hang around the village until I can find out any more information. Then we both can go after the vampari."
"If I have to stand around and watch you make goo-goo eyes at Demetri, he may not live long enough for him to tell you anything."
"Then help the villagers repair their homes, shore up their defenses before the next attack..."
Gabrielle, I will be fine."
"NO!" Gabrielle yelled.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?"
The bard closed her eyes, trying to reign in the emotional storm that raged inside of her.
Xena reached out and gently pulled the petite warrior to her. "Talk to me."
Gabrielle opened her eyes, and continued to let Xena hold her. "It's just that, the last time we went our separate ways, you died."
Xena tightened her grip on the younger woman. "Gabrielle, I'm not going anywhere."
"I know it sounds silly…"
"No it doesn't." Xena leaned back so she could look into Gabrielle's eyes. "I made a promise to you Gabrielle when you came back to Japa. I'm not going to leave your side. You are going to know the entire plan. No more secrets, okay?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Okay."
Xena leaned forward, and placed a gentle kiss on her soulmate's forehead. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault."
"Yes it is." Xena continued to hold Gabrielle close. "I will stay here and find out what I can. Then we can track them together, okay?" She watched as Gabrielle nodded. "Good. But don't say I didn't warn you. If he comes too close…"
Gabrielle smiled. "I can handle Demetri. You just help the village get itself together."
Gabrielle went to the main room of the tavern and sat down, hoping to see Demetri. She didn't have to wait long. As soon as the young man saw her, a smile lit up his whole face, and he made his way to her table.
"Do you need anything Gabrielle?"
She smiled back at him. "Just wondering if you have time to chat?"
"Of course." He pulled out a seat and sat across from her. "You know, it was so nice to have someone to talk to about mom and her fanciful stories."
"She sounds like she would have made a wonderful bard Demetri."
"I know she would have liked you." He reached out and covered her hand with his. Once again, Gabrielle felt the same surge she felt when they hands accidentally brushed each other when they first met. She looked down at their joined hands. "Demetri…
He interrupted, "Actually my mom was sort of an artist. She made pictures to go with her fanciful stories. I kept them all after she died. Would you like to see them? And…" he paused, "have dinner with me tonight?" Gabrielle gave him a small smile and nodded. "Great. Is it alright if I meet you here, after the dinner rush?"
"Okay." She looked out towards the door. "I need to check on my horse. I'll see you later." She pulled her hand away and then stood to head out the door.
As soon as she exited, she looked down at her hand. The surge had stopped the moment she pulled away from him. But it was more than the surge that disturbed her. A feeling of comfort and familiarity kept ringing inside of her. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind. One thing was for sure in her head, "Xena isn't going to like this at all."
"You're what?" Xena tried to calmly ask. After a hard day of shoring the town's defenses, and giving advice to the town leaders, all she wanted was a quiet dinner in her room with her soul-mate. But it seemed that Gabrielle had other plans.
"Xena, it is just dinner. He wants to show me some of his mother's artwork." She tried to reason with Xena's strategic side, "We need more information about his mother, and this is an easy way to get it."
Xena slowly let out a breath. "Fine. I'll grab dinner in the tavern. I will be there just in case."
"Xena," Gabrielle was about to argue with the warrior, but seeing the stubborn look in her eyes caused her to reconsider, "Just doesn't spook him. Okay?"
The warrior gave the bard a small smile before leaving the room. She made her way to the main room, and spotted a table in the corner. She sat down at it, and made sure she could spot all of the room from her seat.
Demetri walked over to the table. "Can I get you anything Xena?"
Xena's eyes were the color of blue steel. "Just some water would be fine for now."
The older white-headed inn-keeper came in from the back. "Demetri, what are you doing? You don't need to do that. You have more important things to do."
"Uncle Iorgu, I was just taking her order."
"Bah!" The old man gave the young man a gentle shove. "Don't want you to smell like the kitchen. Go now! Relax. Wait for her!"
Demetri shook his head as he followed his uncle's orders. The old man turned to the warrior. "So what would you like?"
"Nonsense. We have some of the finest strong drink around!" He scurried to the bar, and picked out a dark bottle. "It is distilled only from the best crops." He poured her a drink and then himself a drink. "Share a drink with an old man?" He slugged back the drink. Xena held her drink close to her nose. Not smelling anything unusual, she sipped it. The dark and sweet liquid warmed her throat. "Very good."
"Yes, it is!" Iorgu motioned for the warrior to lean forward as he whispered. "I think that Gabrielle is very good for Demetri, no? He has not been the same since his mother's death. They were so close. I've tried to honor my brother, and help take care of the lad all these years. It is finally good to see some happiness enter his life."
Their conversation stopped as Gabrielle entered the room. Demetri stood up and smiled. He offered her his arm. "Uncle thought it would be best to have dinner at the farm. My mom's work is very delicate, and he reminded me that I need to take absolute care of it. So if you don't mind, your chariot awaits."
Gabrielle glanced over at Xena before returning her attention to the young man. "Let's go."
Xena watched them as they left the tavern. "Is it really safe for them to travel at night? Those creatures…"
"Perfectly safe," Iorgu interrupted. "They never strike twice."
"Good to know." Xena filed the information away. "So you were saying that Demetri's dad was your brother?"
"Yah. He was a fine man, but he died before Demetri was even born. He was killed while defending his family from invaders. Those infidels killed my brother."
"Sorry about your lost."
Iorgu nodded and then slammed down another drink. "At first the boy was going to have dinner here. I told him nonsense! The tavern is not romantic. Take her to the farm, have a nice dinner, get to know one another! Besides, he wanted to show her some of his mother's work. They are far too delicate to be trotted in and out. They are the only things he has from her." A guffaw laugh filled the air "Hopefully by the Spring, we will have a wedding to celebrate!"
"I know, I know I get carried away. But I don't know how many seasons I have left. I'm old. Is it too much to ask that my only nephew find happiness? I know that I probably shouldn't have interfered, but when I first saw her here in this tavern, I knew she would be perfect for my Demetri. Besides, I've never seen that look in his eyes before. All he does is talk about her." He leaned in. "Does she ever mention my Demetri?"
Xena took another swallow of her drink. "She thinks he is a nice young man."
"Well, I think we have a match!" He stood up. "I will let you attend to your business. Thanks for sharing a drink with me. If there is nothing else, let me bid you a good night Warrior."
"Goodnight." Xena waited until the old man returned to the kitchen before she headed out of the tavern. Not knowing the direction the couple went, Xena spotted a huge Linden tree. With a running start, Xena leaped up and landed on a thick branch. She climbed the rest of the way up until she could see most of the surrounding countryside. She spots the wagon, and in the distance she saw a small farmhouse. "Too far to walk," she surmised. Silently, Xena flipped out of the tree, and raced to the stable to retrieve Argo Jr.
"Welcome to my humble dwelling. Do you mind seeing my mother's work before we have supper?"
"Sure." Gabrielle's curiosity made itself known. In all her travels, Gabrielle loved seeing the artwork of the lands she visited.
Gentle, Demetri pulled open an old wooden drawer. He reached inside and gingerly lifted out a large time-worn leather bounded album. He brought the album to Gabrielle. "Here it is."
Gabrielle smiled as she took the album and opened it. "Greek."
"Yes, like I told you, she was from your lands. She tried to teach it to me, but since no one else around here spoke Greek, I didn't pay much attention to the lessons. "A sad look filled his face. "Now, I wished I had. I remember bits and pieces of the stories, but not enough to make out what she wrote."
Gabrielle's hand slowly slid across the album. "This one is called Song of the Bacchai." Gabrielle swallowed back her emotions as she began reading out loud. "My Lord told me that a person, who is bitten and slowly becomes a Bacchi, will always have a piece of Bacchus in them. It is called the Song of the Bacchai. And anyone who has Bacchus' blood flowing through him or her will recognize it. The Song will come from the heart, it will flow through their veins, and out from their touch." A chill ran down Gabrielle's spine. "My son, you are of Bacchus' blood. You are the heir to his throne. And one day, you will recognize the Song as it calls out to you."
Demetri stared intently at the Bard. "I never thought that story was true. You are the only person I have heard that song from besides my mother. You were a Bacchai."
Gabrielle took a step back, away from the young man as confusion filled her expression. "You're his son?"
"So it wasn't your mother. You are responsible for the vampari." She turned to the front door, but Demetri stood there, blocking the doorway. A smirk dressed his lips as he watched her jaw dropped in astonishment.
"The first time the hunger came upon me, I was 17. My uncle came to me, and I learned that I had inherited a lot of my father's traits. He and my mother taught me a lot. Animals satisfied the need for years. But 4 years ago, after her death, it wasn't enough." He took at step towards her. "For months, I would hit a village and attack only in the shadows. Then I learned to control my hunger. I could feed without killing.
Then, one night I went to attack a young woman. Before I could even touch her, she turned and attacked me. It was then, we realized we were the same. I took her with me and later discovered that I had attacked her before. Others soon follow. I consider them my family."
"They are killing people. Why?"
"My children are weaker than me, Gabrielle. They cannot control their hunger. They can't stop themselves. I can go weeks after a feeding. They cannot. They need to feed much more than me. And when their more animalistic nature takes over, even I have trouble stopping them. Speaking of which…"
Gabrielle slowly turned her head. Out from the shadows, vampari came into the light. Gabrielle quickly pulled out her sais. She counted their number…at least 10 of them. Demetri saw the determination in her eyes.
"You do know your weapons cannot kill us."
"Maybe not, but I guess you can feel pain like the rest of us."
"They don't want to kill you Gabrielle." He threw up a hand, and the vampari stopped. "Gabrielle, I thought I was destined to walk this world alone. Then I found out about you."
"Sorry, already spoken for." With that, she slashed at the closest vampari, causing a deep slash in her face. She then attacked the one on her left, then her right. She knew she couldn't kill them, but she was determined to clear a path and escape. She was about to make a run for it when one of the vampari instantaneously stood in front of the door.
"They also inherited my speed." She then felt one at her back. Before she could react, a male vampari grabbed her left arm and snapped it. She screamed in pure pain as she dropped to her knees, clutching her arm. "Also my strength." Demetri slowly walked toward her. "Gabrielle, you are about to receive a gift."
Gabrielle spoke through gritted teeth. "You can take your gift and shove it."
A toothy smile appeared, and that is when Gabrielle noticed the fangs. Demetri's voice was barely above a whisper. "Uncle did say you had a way with words." He proceeded to sink his fangs into her neck.
A scream caught in her throat, but couldn't find its way out. Pure, sheer coldness seemed to flood her very veins. She felt her blood running down the left side on her body. She raised her good arm, and grabbed at his hair, but that only caused him to sink deeper into her. The only sound she was able to make was a gasp as her blood began to burn in her veins. She sank further onto the floor and the darkness mercifully took over.
Demetri stood up and watched as her body began to convulse. "Let's go."
One of the female vampari looked surprised. "We are not taking her with us?"
Demetri shook his head. "No need to." Demetri picked up the album and gracefully walked out of the door.
Just as silently they appeared, the vampari disappeared into the night.
Traveling at night on horseback was not the smartest thing to do. Horses have been known to break a leg by stepping into holes or tripping over branches. But Xena had no choice. As she closed in on the farmhouse, she heard the Amazon's scream. "Gabrielle," Xena said her voice full of worry. She urged Argo even faster.
She kicked in the front door, her sword drawn. No one was there. She walked through the front room. She gasped as her partner came into sight.
Gabrielle's skin possessed a deathly pallor, causing her lips to look blood red, her body convulsing. Xena ran into the back room, saw a blanket upon the bed and ripped it off. Hurriedly, she ran into the front room, and began to tightly tuck the blanket around Gabrielle. That is when she noticed the arm and the bite marks on the neck. Noticing that the bite marks had already started to scab over, she looked around the room for arm splints. She grabbed a wooden chair and smashed it against the wall. She then went into the back room again, and tore the sheet off the bed and ripped it into strips. Using the broken chair as splints and the torn sheet as bandages, she set Gabrielle's arm; and then wrapped the blanket tightly around the Bard. She went outside and grabbed her medical kit and saddle bags. "Stand guard Argo." The horse neighed.
She went back inside and fixed an herbal concoction to help Gabrielle with the spasms. As she spoon fed Gabrielle the liquid, she rubbed her throat, helping the young woman to get the fluid into her system. Once the tea was finished, she took another strip of sheet, moistened it with water and wiped the blood off of Gabrielle. It was only then, that she let her emotions go. As she cradled Gabrielle in her arms, she kissed her feverish forehead and let the silent tears fall from her eyes. "You are going to be alright. You are going to be alright."
Once the convulsions lessened, Xena went back outside. She walked to the edge of the woods, and found two small trees. She chopped them down using her sword, and dragged them to Argo. She was fighting her emotions tooth and nail, she wanted to take Gabrielle and run, get as far away from the town of Ardeal as possible. But a small voice told her that Gabrielle would be disappointed if she didn't at least warn them. "We have to get Gabrielle back to the village girl." The warrior tied the make shift travois to the golden steed. She went back inside, gently lifted Gabrielle in her arms, took her outside and laid her in the travois. Xena took the reins, and led Argo back by foot, hoping to see any bumps in the road to avoid them.
As she entered the town, she headed straight towards the magistrate's dwelling. She pounded on the door. The magistrate opened the door. "What happened?"
"I only came to warn you. Gather the town folk together. Demetri is the cause of the attacks. Iorgu is involved also."
"How you know this?"
Xena stepped aside so that the magistrate could see the travois and Gabrielle. He walked over to the unconscious victim. "What happened? Who did this?"
"The last person she was with was Demetri."
"I can't believe this! Demetri was born here! He grew up here!"
"Listen, I don't care about his biography! My friend was attacked at his farmhouse. He wasn't there."
"Maybe they took him." He could see that Xena's temper was about to flare. "Okay, I will bring Iorgu in and question him." He looked over at Gabrielle. "She was bitten, wasn't she?"
Xena didn't said a word as she walked over to the travois and gently brushed Gabrielle' hair out of her face.
He sighed. "If she was bitten, then the best thing you can do for her is to get her away from here. They didn't kill her; therefore they want to turn her." With that, he turned and ran for the inn.
After a number of moments, the magistrate returned, Gabrielle's horse trailing behind him. "He is gone. I searched the inn and the stables. He has disappeared. Looks like you may be right. Sorry about your friend.
Xena didn't acknowledge him. "I'm getting her out of here now."
"Probably for the best," he stated as he tied to reigns of the second horse to Argo's saddlehorn.
Xena undid the travois and picked up the Bard. She gave Argo a command. "Kneel."
The steed dropped to her two front knees. Xena climbed up, cradling her friend. With her legs, she urged Argo to stand and the group quickly made its way out of town.
It hurt too much to breath, to move, even to think. All she could feel was the pain. The terrible heat would seem to burn her flesh, and the next moment the ice froze her to the core. Ice met fire, and the forming mists and liquid seem to drown her very essence. The elements seem to slam together in an explosion of searing light and then rip apart slowly over and over again in her body. Gabrielle wanted to scream out in agony, but didn't have the strength to do so. All she could do was open her eyes. She saw Xena's face full of focus and determination. Knowing she was safe, she allowed the darkness to swallow her once more.
Xena looked straight ahead, her very being in full battle mode. Any threat would be dealt with quickly and without mercy. She glanced down at her soul-mate, and then shifted her focus back on the road. She stuck to the main road for a few candlemarks, and then urged horses deep into the woods. She traveled until she came across what looked like a small abandoned farmhouse. Nature had started to reinforce its dominance, as vines, bushes and grasses grew wild and unchecked. Xena stopped Argo. The steed gently kneeled, and the warrior slid off, holding her soul-mate close to her. She laid her down gently so she could inspect the structure more closely.
Xena made a make-shifted torch and opened the door. The house was full of dust and insects ran when the light filled the room. All that was left in the house was a small wooden table. Xena checked the stone fireplace, and saw it was still in good shape. She decided to stay here until Gabrielle was well enough to travel.
She went outside and gently picked up the unconscious woman. She brought Gabrielle inside, and with all care, laid her down close to the fireplace. She laid the torch in the fireplace, and went outside. She looked on the side of the house, and after cutting through the high grasses, she found what she had hoped to find-a few small old logs that the previous owner left behind. She took them inside, and with some kindling, she stroked a small but hot fire. She looked over at Gabrielle and saw that she was even paler than before. She went and grabbed their saddle bags and sleeping furs from Argo, and made some more tea containing medical herbs.
She brought the hot liquid and sat down on the floor. She sat Gabrielle up, and touched her skin. She was icy cold and clammy. She gently tapped her on the face. "Come on Gabrielle. Wake up. I've some hot tea for you. Warm you right up. Come on now."
After some more coaxing, Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes. Xena audibly gasped. Gabrielle's eyes were bright and green, but instead of looking at Xena, the petite warrior's eyes seem to stare right through her, without any recognition whatsoever.
It was a long and tiring process, but Xena was able to get most of the tea into Gabrielle. "Go to sleep now." She rocked her soul-mate until she Gabrielle finally closed her eyes.
She settled Gabrielle upon their sleeping furs. Xena then checked the fire, making sure it had enough wood to last until the morning. Knowing that there was nothing else she could do, she laid down behind her partner, wrapping her arms around her tight. Gabrielle's skin was still cold and her breathing shallow. Xena pulled her as close as possible, giving her as much body heat as she could. Soon, she fell into a fitful sleep.
The pain cease and the bitter cold were replaced by gentle warmth. She could smell the pungent scent of the smoke, and her skin seemed to tingle from the heat of the fire. But most of all, she could hear the rush of something… The wind, a waterfall… she didn't know what it was, but it called out to her, urging her to wake up from her sleep. She slowly opened her eyes and let them get adjusted to the light. As she tried to move, a moan escaped from her lips.
Xena rushed over. "Hey you, I bet you are thirsty." The warrior gently helped Gabrielle sit up, and then placed her hand on her soul-mate's forehead. A small smile formed at the corners of her mouth. "Your fever finally broke." Xena raised a small cup of water to Gabrielle's lips. "Take a few sips. Then lie back down. You still look very pale."
Gabrielle did as she was told. She scanned the room and realized that they weren't at the inn. "So, where are we?"
"Don't worry about that Gabrielle. You need to rest. You have had a fever for three days."
"We're not in Ardeal, are we?" She watched as Xena shook her head no. "Xena, we have to go back."
"No we don't!" Xena exclaimed. "Gabrielle, we are getting as far from Ardeal as possible." She took a deep breath. "The magistrate warned me. They didn't kill you because they wanted to turn you into one of them. I'm not going to let them get another chance at you."
Gabrielle focused her eyes on the ground. "He was the one who bit me." Her eyes narrowed as she reflected on the events right before the attack. "At the farm, he showed me a scroll his mom created. It was the Song of the Bacchai. Anyone of his line will be able to feel this song."
Xena was perplexed by Gabrielle's choice of words. "Feel?"
Gabrielle repeated the exact phrase from the scroll. "The Song will come from the heart, it will flow through their veins, and out from their touch." She finally looked at Xena. "I would feel this energy just surge through my hands whenever we touched. I didn't think anything of it. He said that is when he realized I was a once a Bacchai. He thought he would never meet another one, other than his mother."
"So how did Demetri become a Bacchai? They have always been female."
"Demetri is Bacchus' son."
"His son? That means Helen must have been pregnant when she turned back human." Lightning flashed in Xena's eyes while her mind was putting the puzzle pieces together. "No. He can't be behind this. I'm going to kill him."
"At the inn, Irogu and I had a drink. He told me that Demetri's father was his brother. Irogu and Ares is the same person. That is how he got away so fast without a trace."
"Demetri told me that his uncle said I had a way with words." A questioning look filled her eyes. "I don't understand. What could Ares possibly gain from this?"
"I don't know Gabrielle. But as soon as we get back to Greece, I'm going to find out."
"Xena, we cannot leave those villagers to fight Demetri and the vampari. They are not match for them."
"We're not either Gabrielle. Our weapons have no effect on them. Besides, you are still recovering."
"Xena, I feel fine. In fact, I haven't felt this well in a long time."
"Why you are so pale then? Gabrielle, you were out of it for 3 days. You lost a lot of blood. Even if they weren't after you, I still wouldn't risk it."
"No Gabrielle." She sat on the floor cross-legged in front of the petite blonde. "I'm not going to risk losing you. We can't help them. And until we find out what Ares is up to, we won't know what our next step should be." She reached out and grabbed Gabrielle's hand. It was cool to the touch. "You need to rest. We'll stay here until you are well enough to travel."
"Xena, I'm well now." Seeing the look of doubt upon her soul-mate's face, she continued, "Want me to prove it?"
"I want you to rest. Tomorrow, if you still feel alright, we will leave. Okay?"
Gabrielle shook her head, knowing that Xena wasn't about to change her mind, and lay back down. *Might as well enjoy this day off.* She smirked to herself as Xena went to the fireplace and poured a cup of hot water. She could smell the sleeping herbs as the scent floated in the air. "Xena, I'm not tired."
It was Xena's turn to smirk. "I know that. That is why I making you some tea. It will help you to relax."
"It is going to put me to sleep. I've slept enough…" She was about to argue her point until she saw the look on Xena's face. "Sorry, I know you are just worried."
Xena sat down next to her. She handed her the cup and watched as Gabrielle began to drink the tea. "When I found you, there was so much blood. You were convulsing. I wasn't sure you were going to make it." Xena swallowed hard as the memories filled her mind. "I need to know that you are okay. I won't let anything happen to you."
Gabrielle laid her head down on Xena's lap. A small smile graced her lips as Xena gently ran her fingers through the blonde tresses. "Thank you for taking care of me. I love you."
"Love you too. Now get some rest."
Within moments, Gabrielle was stifling a yawn. Being totally relaxed, she closed her eyes and let the herbs take over.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle and pulled the blanket over the sleeping woman. She silently bent down, and placed a gentle kiss upon her forehead. She then too, allowed herself to get some rest.
The room was still dark; the only source of light was the small fire in the stone fireplace. Gabrielle opened her eyes and scanned the room. She could see the table, and on top of the table laid their saddlebags, and cooking utensils. She heard a buzz, and looked to her left. She could see a fly as it tried to find a way out of the house. Then another sound caught her attention. She turned around and smiled as she realized that the source of the seemingly loud snore was her sleeping soul-mate. Gabrielle was fully engaged in her favorite past time. She lay down beside the warrior, to gain a better view. She sniffed, as a sweet smell filled her nostrils. She moved her head closer to Xena, and realized that the scent came from her. *Maybe she switched soaps*, she surmised, as she breathed in deeply. The scent was intoxicating. Gabrielle's eyes became very playful as an idea popped into her head.
Xena awoke to find Gabrielle gently nibbling her skin across her jaw line. It was pleasurable, too pleasurable and Xena tried to halt the younger woman's activities, even as her own body betrayed her and gave Gabrielle more room to maneuver. "Gabrielle, what do you think you are doing?" she whispered.
Gabrielle didn't stop as she kissed her way to Xena's pulse. She began to suck very lightly, causing a moan to escape from the warrior's throat. She smiled, and then looked up into the sea blue eyes. "Proving to you how well I am."
"Gabrielle, behave your…" her words were cut off as Gabrielle kissed her deeply and soundly. The kiss didn't end until their lungs cried out for air. Gabrielle watched as Xena breathed in deeply. Then she went back for more, pushing Xena so that the warrior's back was on the floor, and she was on top.
Gabrielle then proceeded to prove to Xena just how fit she truly was.
They didn't leave the old farmhouse until later that morning. As they rode, Gabrielle noticed that everything around her seem sharper. The colors seem more vibrant, she could feel the tingle of the breeze as it blew by her skin. She could smell the faint aroma of the fallen leaves. She thought about her other close encounters with death, and how the world seemed more alive afterwards. She wondered to herself how long this sensation was going to last this time around.
Xena glanced back at her partner. Even though she still looked pale, Gabrielle was indeed feeling better, and was up for the trip. A small grin danced upon Xena's lips as she briefly thought about this morning. She glanced up at the sun, and hoped that its rays would kiss Gabrielle's skin, and return her healthy glow once more. Her thoughts were interrupted as she heard a stick breaking. She slowed down Argo, and looked at Gabrielle.
The bard nodded, indicating that she heard it too. Both warriors stopped their steeds, and climbed down. They walked side by side.
"We're being followed," Gabrielle whispered.
Xena nodded. "You need to get back on your horse. If they are vampari, you need to get out of here."
"Forget it. I'm not leaving you alone Xena."
"Don't worry," both women looked up at the tall Linden tree from which the voice came. They watched as Demetri jumped down and landed like a feline upon his feet. "There is no 'they'. And I'm not here to attack."
Xena drew her sword as he took one step towards them. She stood in front of Gabrielle, with the horses guarding their rear. "Go back to whatever hole you crawled out of, you are not going to get to her again."
His dark eyes stared at the bard. "No need to. What's done is done." After a few moments, he shifted his attention to the warrior. "I came here to warn the both of you."
"Warn us about what?" Xena sneered.
He ignored Xena's question. "Gabrielle, do you remember the night when you were bitten by a Bacchai? Do you remember who turned you?"
Gabrielle thought about it. "Why?"
He smirked. "Xena, do you remember when you were bitten?" The warrior remained silent, but he could see in her eyes clarity and acknowledgment, while in Gabrielle's eyes only shone confusion. "Mother was there on both occasions. She told me the story over and over again, hoping that I would avoid the pitfall of feminine wiles. Xena, you remember… you know it was Gabrielle who turned you, and you turned very quickly. Gabrielle however, doesn't remember being bit or who did it; and unlike you, she didn't turn quickly."
"Do you have a point?" The Warrior Princess asked.
"According to mother, Bacchus knew that you would make a fine addition to his ranks. He came up with a plan. The best way to get to you was through your companion, so he disguised himself as a female mortal. He, my mother, and another Bacchai surrounded Gabrielle on the dance floor. And he bit her. She has no recollection because she was bitten by Bacchus himself. And unlike a regular Bacchai bite, his bite invades every part of a woman…every drop of blood, every bone, every organ. It invades her slowly, making its imprint on every facet of her being." He smiled evilly. "So there is no need for me to bite her again. My bite just reawakened what was already there."
"Am I Gabrielle? Tell me, why are you still so pale? I bet you your skin is cold, as least it feels that way to humans. Don't things seem a bit clearer and your senses sharper? Have you smelled any new scents that make your pulse race with anticipation?"
Xena glanced back at Gabrielle and saw that the fear in her face. She needed to end this very quickly. "You said you were here to warn us."
He continued to stare at the bard. "The hunger will come. You need to come with me Gabrielle so I can teach you to hunt, how to pick your prey. If you don't, the hunger will take over, and you will attack any person that is near you--- a man, a woman, a baby…nothing will be safe around you. You won't be able to stop it or control it once it takes over. It won't stop until it is satiated."
"She is not going with you anywhere."
"If she stays with you, she will come to regret that decision." He finally looked at the Warrior Princess. "And you won't live long enough to regret anything."
"If you thought that story would cause us to separate, you were wrong. Ares has tried this before. It didn't work then, and it won't work now. I don't know what kind of sick game you and Ares are playing, but you won't win."
"I already have." He turned and walked towards the woods. "Remember what I said Gabrielle. We will be waiting." With that, he ran into the woods and disappeared from sight.
Xena turned and looked at Gabrielle. The young woman looked paler. "Gabrielle," she said as she tried to reach out to her.
Before Xena could touch her, Gabrielle turned and ran to the edge of the woods and promptly retched up the meal she had earlier during the day.
They traveled in silence, each woman replaying Demetri's words in their own mind. They finally came to a spot suitable for making camp. Each woman attended to their individual tasks. After camp was made, Xena looked at Gabrielle. "Bet you don't feel like rations tonight. Anything in particular you want me to try and find?"
Gabrielle silently shook her head no. Hating the silence that seemed to have captured them, Xena walked up to Gabrielle, and pulled her into a tight embrace. "He lied to us Gabrielle. We'll make our way to the coast, we'll be home in a moon or so, okay?" Gabrielle began to pull away, but Xena grabbed her hands. "Don't let him play games with your mind."
The warrior-bard eyed the warrior. "Xena, if I ask you something, I need for you to tell me the truth." She swallowed hard before asking, "What do my hands feel like to you?"
Xena looked down at their joined hands. She slowly looked up at Gabrielle's face. "Gabrielle, you lost a lot of blood…"
Gabrielle snatched her hand away. "Don't! Don't make excuses Xena. This morning, I woke up and saw a fly buzzing around the room. I looked at the table and saw every one of our items on that table. It never dawned to me that I shouldn't have been able to see them in the dark.
And then I watched as you slept. I smelled this sweet scent, and realized it was coming from you. I thought you had use a new soap, but it wasn't that. I smelled you, and I wanted you so badly.
I saw things, heard things, felt things…and I thought it was just my reaction to being so close to death. I reasoned everything away." She finally looked Xena in the face. "He is right; I don't remember how I became a Bacchai. I'm still pale, even after being in the sun all day. My skin is still cold. And I still can smell your scent."
"Gabrielle, you were sick for days. You almost died. Everything you are experiencing can be related to that. And as far as my scent goes, well, I haven't had a bath, so that is why you can smell me."
Gabrielle chuckled a little. "Xena, what if he is telling the truth?"
"Why are you giving him so much credit? He and Ares are working together. Enough said."
Gabrielle nodded. "Maybe you are right." She reached out and touched Xena on the arm. "I need for you to promise me something. If it turns out that he is telling the truth…"
"He isn't" Xena stated flatly.
"If he is, I want you to leave me here. I don't want to affect anyone in Greece with this."
"Gabrielle, I'm not leaving you alone."
The young woman embraced her soul-mate. "I love you."
"Love you too." Xena continued to hold her. "I'm not very hungry either. Let's just turn in, okay?"
Gabrielle nodded, and followed her soul-mate to the sleeping furs. Xena pulled Gabrielle to her until the young woman's head was on her shoulders.
Gabrielle smiled, then breathed deeply. "Xena?"
"Promise me that you will take a bath tomorrow."
Xena chuckled. "I promise."
Xena awoke, only to find she was alone in the furs. "Gabrielle?" Xena frantically looked around until she saw the bard.
Gabrielle sat on the ground, her back up against a tree trunk. She gave a small smile to Xena. "Hi."
Xena eyed her partner. "Are you okay?"
"I'm okay Xena. Just woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep." She stood up and went over by the fire. "I made some tea. Want some?"
Xena nodded. She reached out and grabbed the cup Gabrielle offered. "Thanks." She took a swallow of the hot brew. She noticed how tired Gabrielle looked. "Are you hungry?"
"Good; glad to see your appetite back. Why don't you rest here while I go hunting? Once we're finish with breakfast, we can break camp."
"That sounds good. See you when you get back."
Xena nodded, grabbed her sword and chakram, and went deeper in the woods.
After a few moments, Gabrielle let out a sigh of relief. Gabrielle thought about what caused her to wake up in the first place… Xena's scent filled her nostrils while the sound of the tall warrior's heart thumped in her ears. They were almost too much to take. She went to the woods, and heard another heartbeat. She silently stalked the animal, and was able to capture the rabbit. But she couldn't stomach the idea of drinking its blood. She let the creature go, and silently crept back to camp and sat by a tree that was upwind from the sleeping woman. During those wee hours, Gabrielle tried to come up with a way to make Xena see the truth. She didn't know how much time she had left before the hunger would take over. She also knew that Xena would never willingly leave her. Gabrielle thought about leaving herself, but she knew that Xena would be able to track her. She was at her wit's end when an idea popped into her head. "Aphrodite, if you can hear me, please come here."
In a not so subtle display of glitter and light, the goddess of love appeared in front of Gabrielle. "You rang Sweet Pea?" the tall blonde goddess asked. It was then she noticed the bard's state. "Are you hurt?" Without hesitation, she kneeled down, and began checking for injuries.
Gabrielle grabbed the goddess' questing hands. "Aphrodite, listen please. I don't have much time. I need for you to take Xena back to Greece, far away from here."
"No problemo babe. I'll have you both back in less time than it takes for you to blink."
"No! Not me. Just Xena."
"Did you two have a fight? You know communication is the heart of a strong relationship."
"Aphrodite, please focus!" The goddess heard the intensity of the plea and looked at her mortal friend. It was then that she noticed the difference. "Gabrielle, what happened to you?"
Gabrielle took some calming breaths. It was then she noticed that the goddess' scent was invading her senses. Her mind wondered if every person had a unique scent and taste. She shook the morbid thought from her mind. "Aphrodite, listen carefully. There are creatures called vampari. They live off the blood of others."
"Groody! That is disgusting!"
"I was bitten and now I'm affected. I'm becoming one of them." Gabrielle felt her stomach clinched in hunger as the goddess continued to sit near her. The bard stood up and took a couple of steps back. "I'm afraid of what I will do to Xena. She refuses to see what is happening, and she won't leave. You got to get her away before I harm her."
"Okay Gabrielle. And as soon as I get her back to Greece, I'll come back and help you."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Aphrodite, no disrespect intended, but your scent is driving me nuts. I don't need the temptation."
The goddess smiled as the ego took hold. "I do have that affect on people." The humorous moment quickly evaporated as she saw the yellow rim around Gabrielle's irises. She had seen that exact look before. "It can't be. Only Bacchus…"
"He had a son, his name is Demetri. He is the one that bit me." She gripped her torso as the pain swept through her body. "Go. Xena can explain the rest."
"I'll do as you ask Gabrielle. But I know I can speak for Xena here…we are not going to give up on you. We will find a way to get you two back together, and get you well."
Gabrielle managed to give her a small smile before the goddess disappeared in a stream of pink and gold glittering light.
Xena went about 40 paces outside of the camp. She felt the creepy-crawly feeling run down her spine. "Get out here Ares," her voice became a growl, "Now!"
In a show of white light and smoke, the black leather-clad God of War stood before her, with a Cheshire-cat grin on his face. "So you figured it out. I knew you would."
"It didn't work. He only bit her once."
"Denial is not just a river in Egypt, is it Xena? She's changing and you know it."
Xena gritted her teeth. "You bastard!" Xena slugged the god in the face with a right hook.
The god stumbled, then straightened himself to his full stature. "Such passion wasted on someone who only wants to drain you dry. It doesn't have to be that way Xena."
"What are you up to Ares?"
The god cocked his head. "You want the truth? Okay. The truth is, Olympus is a very lonely place with only Aphrodite and me there. I miss my family. We didn't get along, but I miss them the same. I was shocked to discover that Bacchus had a child. He has such power Xena. He can build an army that is indestructible. The problem is…he is lonely and he isn't a capable fighter. I can't have my only nephew being so destressed. So, when I discovered that Gabrielle had been bitten by Bacchus himself, well, I just had to help Demetri. They do make a fine couple, you have to admit that. Can you imagine the carnage they will cause?
But there was a fly in the ointment, a very beautiful fly…namely you. So I have a deal for you Xena. There is still Ambrosia around. I have some. All I have to do is give you some. You eat it once, you become immortal. Eat it twice, and you will become a god." He walked up to her and looked her straight in the eye. "Think about it. You will be the new Queen of the gods. Gabrielle can be your Chosen One, if that is your wish. You two will be together for all of eternity. With all your memories, all your skills, never growing old, never having to fear or face death ever again. And with Demetri and Gabrielle leading our armies, mankind will have no choice but to worship the ground we walk on, humbly beg for our favor and fear our very presence."
"Same ole Ares, same old story…you want to conquer the world. Can't you come up with anything else to do?"
The god snickered. "Xena, in case you haven't notice, I am a god! And gods must have worshippers; we must be feared and respected. What are gods without worship, without power, without fear?"
"Exactly what you are…nothing," she sneered.
Ares ignored her jab and continued. "What better way to gain that respect, that power than with humans who have been turned into demigods themselves? We will be the new Pantheon. Face facts Xena: Gabrielle is immortal now. So is Demetri, Aphrodite and myself. You are the only missing piece to the puzzle."
"No dice Ares. The idea of being with you for eternity is making me sick." The warrior turned and started to head back to camp.
"She's dead. Ares watched as those two words stopped Xena in her tracks. She turned and faced the god, anger flashing in her blue eyes. The god was all business. "The Gabrielle you knew is dead. Or should I say, she is as good as dead. Gabrielle always liked power. And she loves the battle. She loves it so much, she is afraid by her love of it. But she will have all of eternity to conquer that fear. Xena, I am offering you a chance to be part of destiny. You can accept this gift that I offer you. Or you can reject it. But know this; this gift is only for a limited time. Act fast, before time runs out…for you." He reached out his hand and in it appeared a bowl of Ambrosia. The orange substance jiggled about in the gold bowl. "Life," he stated as he lifted the bowl, "or death," and he motioned to his empty hand.
She turned and glanced at the god one last time. "I've made my choice." She turned and walked away.
Dejection filled the god's voice. "So be it Xena." Ares disappeared as the white light flickered three times.
She was half back to camp when Aphrodite appeared. "Sorry Xena, but I promise Gabrielle to take you somewhere safe."
"No need for that Aphrodite." The warrior walked up to the goddess and looked her in the eye. "I need to know something. Are you in cahoots with Ares?"
"Bro? As if. Duh, I'm the goddess of love silly. What do I know about war except that it messes up the nails," she stated as she gave a look at her perfect manicure. "Anyways, Gabrielle asked me to take you back to Greece. She is in a bad way Xena. She even kept away from me because of her thirst."
Xena nodded, knowing the goddess was telling the truth. "Well I need a favor from you. And it is a big one. Don't take me to Greece."
"Listen tall and deadly...."
"No you listen. I'm not going to leave her alone, not in this strange land with Demetri and his kind."
"Xena, how are you going to help her?"
Xena eyebrow popped up. "I have a plan."
Gabrielle slowly brushed her steed. The gentle animal neighed, and softly placed its head on top of the petite warrior. Flashbacks of the day she had found him flooded her memory. "Well boy, it is time. Thanks for being so good to me. I hope I have treated you well. You are free to go. Goodbye my friend." She swatted him on the hind parts, but he trots away only a few feet. "Stop being stubborn," she demanded. He neighed once again, then turned around, and walked away.
She watched as he trotted through the grass. *Too bad Xena won't be as easy to get rid of. Hope she doesn't hold a grudge against Aphrodite.* The wind carried the warrior's scent, alerting Gabrielle that Xena was near. She closed her eyes and could once more hear the sounds of beating and liquid flowing. She opened her eyes, turned her back and took a deep breath to calm the predator instinct. As soon as Xena stepped into camp, Gabrielle asked, "What are you doing here?"
"You convinced Aphrodite to take me to Greece," Xena placed her sword in the scabbard, "and I had to unconvince her."
"Xena it was for your own safety." Gabrielle turned around and faced Xena.
The warrior gasped as she saw that most of Gabrielle's green irises had turned yellow. Xena could barely hide her anguish as she continued to look at the bard.
Gabrielle saw Xena's reaction, which caused a sad smile to grace her lips. "I guess we both have to face it. Demetri told us the truth Xena."
"So what? We can get through this."
"Xena, do you love me?"
"Of course I do."
"Then for both of our sakes, please leave. I don't know how much longer I have, but it gets harder every single moment….being near you, and not giving in to the hunger. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hurt you."
Xena let her emotions overwhelm her. She rushed in and pulled Gabrielle close to her. "Gabrielle, nothing is going to separate us. We are going to beat this."
Gabrielle closed her eyes, trying to listen to Xena and fight the hunger at the same time. The pain was so great, and the pulse by her ear was so strong. She could feel the fangs as they grew forth from her upper jaw. She screamed in anguish as she pushed her soul-mate away. She doubled over in pain.
Xena started to make her way over to the other half of her soul, but Gabrielle threw up a hand, causing the warrior to stop.
"Don't come any closer Xena, please" the petite warrior begged. She looked up at Xena, her eyes wet with unshed tears.
Xena took a breath, as she stared into the yellow rimmed eyes. "Tell me what to do Gabrielle."
Gabrielle gathered her strength and rose to her feet. She took a calming breath. "Don't follow me Xena. Don't try to find me. And if you ever find a way to destroy them, make sure I'm the first."
"Gabrielle, don't say that!"
"Bye Xena. I love you." With that, the young woman spun around, and ran as fast as she could through the woods.
Xena tried to follow her, but Gabrielle was too quick. Xena looked around, and noticed that Gabrielle wasn't covering her tracks; she just wanted to put as much distance between them as possible. Xena whistled for Argo, and the battle horse raced to her side. Xena climbed onto the steed, and followed the trail.
Gabrielle ran until the stomach cramps forced her to stop. She leaned against a tree, and breathed heavily. She couldn't pick up Xena's scent. Thinking that she had lost her, the blonde pushed herself up, and tried to walk. On her third step, her legs gave out. The muscles in various parts of her body began to betray her with cramps. She gritted her teeth, swallowing back the screams of anguish that threatened to rip from her mouth. She blinked her eyes, trying to stay focus. Her last conscious thoughts were on the love she had for her soul-mate…and her hatred for Demetri.
Dusk had taken over the land. Xena knew she should stop and make camp, but she was determined to find Gabrielle before nightfall. She knew there was a good chance that the hunger had taken over, and she wanted to stop Gabrielle from making her way to a village and killing an innocent person. In addition, she also knew that Demetri and his offspring may be looking for Gabrielle as well.
Xena focused as the sounds of the woods disappeared. The warrior stopped Argo and climbed down. She could feel that she was being watched. Her only clue to the imminent attack was the sound of a tree leaves rustling. She braced herself as the creature flew at her, tackling her to the ground. Using their momentum, Xena flipped them over so that she was on top. She looked down at the creature and gasped.
Gabrielle's eyes held no hint of green, they were blazing yellow. The young woman snapped and snarled as she tried to bite Xena's arm.
"Gabrielle, it doesn't have to be like this." Xena didn't want to hurt Gabrielle any more than needed. She punched the woman in the jaw, hoping to knock her out. The punch proved to be ineffective, and only caused the blonde warrior to be more aggressive. Gabrielle quickly rolled over, causing Xena to lose her grip. Both women came to their feet, circling each other.
Xena was ready for Gabrielle to attack. But this was not Gabrielle. Instead, the creature was very animalistic in its attack. It threw itself into Xena, ignored the blade of the sword, and went for Xena's throat.
The warrior felt the fangs as they pierced her throat, and felt the rip of tendons. She tried to pull back her head, but Gabrielle had her in a death grip. She fell to the ground as the blood streamed down the front of her. She felt herself getting weaker by the moment. At last, the merciful darkness took over.
Slowly, eyes turned from yellow to green. Gabrielle tasted something salty and metallic in her mouth. She quickly pulled away and looked upon the horrible scene in front of her.
Xena throat and the front of her body were covered in blood. The tall brunette warrior laid deadly still on the ground, her skin a ghostly white. Gabrielle shook her head in denial, but her hands told the truth, they too were covered in blood. *What have I done?* She fell to her knees in anguish.
Aphrodite appeared on the other side of Xena. "Gabrielle, I will be right back." With that, the goddess wasted no time, and disappeared with Xena. She reappeared in one of her marbled temples. Xena's body laid upon the cold marble table. The goddess walked up to the table. "I'm so sorry Xena that things turned out this way. I promise you, I will keep an eye on her."
The goddess went back to the woods. She spun around. "Gabrielle?" The young woman was no where in sight.
Three weeks had gone by since he had warned Xena to no avail. Three weeks since his sister told him that Gabrielle had killed Xena, and they had buried Xena in her family's crypt located in Amphipolis, just as Xena had requested. Demetri and the others had looked, but there was no sign of the newest vampire.
Ares hated waiting around. He had a plan, and he wanted to put it in place. He needed something to distract his mind from Xena and her death. He shook his head at the waste. "She made her choice. She could have had it all, but no. I hope she is happy."
Then, Ares felt a surge of hatred and anger. It called to him like a moth to a flame. He hadn't felt anything that strong since the days of Xena's obsession with vengeance against Caesar. He smiled. "I have a new toy," he stated gleefully as he disappeared.
The God of War did not materialize right away. Instead, he watched in the shadows as the petite blonde delivered a round house kick to the head of a tall thinly built young man. He howled in rage and pain as he fell to the ground. He didn't even have a chance to get back up before she threw a sai into his chest. He pulled it out and threw it to the ground. He dived at her, but she side-stepped out of the way. As he flew past her, she swept his feet from underneath him, sending him to the ground once more. As he lay on the ground, she ran up to him and stepped on his hand with her left foot. She raised her right foot and brought it straight down on his elbow. The only sound heard was the crunch of his joint, and his screams of pain.
"Now go home while you still can." She watched as he got up and eyed her. Thinking better of it, he ran in the opposite direction.
Gabrielle turned to the young man and child. The man held the five year old close to him. "How can we ever thank you? My wife is a great cook, and we only leave a few moments away. Why don't you stay…"
"Go home," she interrupted. "I don't want your thanks."
The man grew silent, gathered the child into his arms, and ran down the road.
Gabrielle gathered her tossed sai, and cleaned it off.
The god finally surfaced. "I think you had that backwards," he watched as Gabrielle spun around to face him. "You see, that man was your prey. Not the vampire." When she said nothing back, he continued. "You can be a vicious minx when you want to be. Xena would be proud."
That is when the rage exploded. "Don't you dare say her name! All of it is your fault!"
"She made her choice. I warned her. I even gave her the chance to be a god, and she threw it away. She knew you would kill her, and she still made that choice. If you want to blame anyone, blame her!" He pulled at his leathers. "She chose her destiny. Now it is time for you to face yours."
"Whatever it is, the answer is no."
"You haven't heard me out yet."
"I don't need to. I figured out the highlights. Demetri can create a whole army of us. However, from the lack of fighting abilities that they have shown, warfare is not his strong suit." She eyed the god, "And that is where Xena and I fit in. You borrowed a page from Bacchus' playbook, get me, you get Xena."
"Not quite, but close. Yes, I do want you to lead my armies. Gabrielle, you are an immortal. In fact you are more than that. With your powers, humans would worship you as a demigod." He watched as she turned her back to him. "What else is there for you-- The Amazons? Do you really think they will accept you now? Do you think you can go back to Greece? Accept the facts. You have no where else to go."
Gabrielle lowered her head at the truth of those words. "You are right. I have no where else to go. And I need to face facts." She turned her head towards the god. "You want a war Ares, you got one." She turned around and walked towards the god. "Vampire blood will spill. I will destroy Demetri's children, and then him."
The god smirked. "They are immortal Gabrielle."
It was her turn to smirk. "Demetri let the cat out of the bag. He stated that his children have weaknesses. They cannot go without blood for long. I bet you they have other weaknesses too, weaknesses that neither Demetri nor I share."
Ares narrow his eyes. "He created you."
"No he didn't. He just woke up something that had been inside of me. If he was smart, he would have left it there asleep. I haven't fed in weeks. I am quicker, faster and stronger than them. Every last one of them I have fought has retreated. I will find a way to kill them all." She gave the god a cold smile. "Not quite the war you wanted, but it will have to do."
"Why do you want to make things so hard for yourself? Why can't we all just get along?"
He didn't get a verbal answer. Instead, she quickly got in back of him and bit him where the neck meets the shoulder.
Ares couldn't believe this was happening. He reached up and tried to pull her off, but she was draining him too quickly. For the first time in a very long time, Ares felt true fear. He fell first to his knees, and then he toppled over.
She detached herself from the god and turned him over so he could look her in the eyes. Her eyes, once green, were blood red. "That's why. Tell Demetri I will be coming for him soon." She stood up and walked away.
Everything was dark and cold. Slowly, very slowly, she was able to breath. Over what seemed to be hours, she was able to wiggle a finger. More time past, and she could finally open her eyes and mouth. But no sound uttered forth. She reached up and checked her throat-it was totally healed. She felt so tired. She focused all her strength to utter the word that would gain her the freedom she craved.
Without seeing, she knew that the goddess was there. Within moments, the top of the crypt flew off. Aphrodite smiled. "Glad to see you are finally awake." The goddess reached down and helped the Warrior Princess out of the tomb.
Her legs were still shaky, so she held on to the edge of the sarcophagus for support. She looked around and saw that the goddess was alone. She looked at Aphrodite with questioning eyes.
The goddess sighed. The first part of the plan worked: she had given Xena some Ambrosia which made her immortal. What neither of them had anticipated was the fact that Gabrielle's hunger would be strong enough to totally drain Xena's strength. The goddess suspected that the Warrior had no clue to how long she was out of it. And the goddess did not look forward to telling Xena the truth. "Let's get out of here. You need time to get your body working again, you need some food," the goddess sniffed the air, "and a bath. GROODY!"
Xena was too feeble to offer any arguments. She needed some answers, but she knew that they would have to wait. She weakly nodded to the goddess, and they both disappeared with sparkling light.
Vlad Dracul and his army walked tall and straight as they entered their home village. They had been away for over a year, battling their enemy. A small smile graced his dark features as most of his men made their way into the local taverns. Vlad looked at his officers, mostly merchants and peasants who were loyal to him alone. "Do me the honor, and let us have one more drink together, before we return to our families. Hopefully we will have no need to see each other in the coming years." The men laughed and nodded their agreement. The ebony-haired prince made his way to the bar keep. "The finest drink you have for all my friends," he stated as he threw done a bag of gold. "Keep them happy. I would also like a room with a bath."
The barkeep bowed and quickly ran upstairs to make sure all things were according to the prince's liking. Vlad slowly made his way upstairs, he wanted to enjoy this time, and make himself ready to receive a proper welcome from his wife. Lysia was the love of his life, and just the thought of her warmed his heart through many a cold night. They had met as children, in the court of his father, Vlad II. She was a noble-woman from Transylvania. As soon as he was able, he proposed to her. She was his other and most time better, half. He saw many gruesome things during the war, he even found himself acting as an animal. But when he received a message from his love, that one act tamed the beast inside. He couldn't wait to see her.
After his bath, Vlad came down stairs. Most of the common soldiers were gone, but his officers remained, waiting patiently for his return. With his long hair combed back and tied in a pony tail, and with a clean white shirt and black farmer's pants, he no longer looked like a battle-hardened warrior. He looked around and saw a bard on the stage, telling a story that seemed to hold the audience captive. He quietly sat down and listened to the ending….
No human can escape their hands.
Drain you of life and blood.
There is no safety in these lands.
Don't be caught alone at night,
There are things to be afraid of,
For death is better than their bite.
Vlad sat up, as an uneasy tingle worked its way down his spine. He didn't pay much attention as the bard took a bow and began another tale; for he had decided to bid goodnight to his officers.
He traveled without rest until he finally arrived at his castle. "Lysia," he called out. He ran up the stairs, hoping to catch her in his arms and hear her warm laughter. Instead, he was met with silence.
Vlad called out for his servant, "Krekul!" Once again, nothing but silence greeted him. He ran into the bed-maiden's quarters. He gasped as he saw the young red-headed body on the floor. He ran and checked her pulse. The waif of a woman was deadly pale. Fear spread throughout Vlad's entire being. He ran to his wife's chamber. He opened the door, and saw that the window was open, the wind blowing the curtains. It was then he noticed that the curtains were hanging outside of the window. He slowly made his way to the window and looked below into the garden.
Down below, was his fair Lysia. She lay still as two huge spots of blood adorned the left side of her dress. Two people were there holding his wife. At first, he thought they were helping her, until one lifted her head, her mouth bloodied, with fangs protruding from her jaw.
Rage filled the young man's soul. "DEMONS!" he yelled out. Vlad pulled out his sword and ran downstairs and out the doors that led to the garden. He ran to the vampari with a war cry upon his lips. He hacked at one of them, delivering a deep gash down the back. He glanced at his dear wife. Seeing the cold pallor of death in her once golden brown eyes, he screamed and lunged at the second creature. The vampari batted his sword hand away as if he was a child. His legs buckled as the other one hit him from behind. They were too strong, and his will to live had weaned. He looked once more at Lysia, and prepared to follow her into the afterlife. Instead, he heard another scream.
Gabrielle stood in front of the two vampari, a small sword in one hand, and a sai in the other. She threw the sai into the foot of the first vampari. The weapon pinned him to the ground. As he bent over to pull the sai out, she rolled over his back, and delivered a roundhouse kick to the second one. She then turned back to the first one. Just as he pulled the sai out of his foot, she beheaded him. She quickly turned the sword onto the second one. She watched as he ran to the woods.
Without looking at Vlad, she pulled out a flask from her left boot. She poured the contents over the beheaded vampari. She then took a flint and lit the body on fire. The scent of burning flesh filled the air. Then she heard as the air was filled with a scream of anguish. She turned around and saw that the young prince had managed to crawl over to his wife. Gabrielle could feel a lump form in her throat as she Vlad pulled his wife's body to him, holding her close. "I'm sorry for your loss."
He reached up and gently closed his wife's eyes. Grief gave way to anger. He should have protected her, he should had come directly home…he should be dead with her. His dark eyes finally rose to look at the one who saved him. "Why didn't you let them kill me?"
Gabrielle looked at his sword and shield. "You are a warrior. They may not have killed you. They may have turned you into one of them."
"I will destroy them."
Gabrielle nodded her understanding. She glanced down at his wife. She had long dark curly hair and was tall. Her heart lurched as her breath caught in her throat. She tried not to think about her own soul-mate, but memories invaded her mind, twisting like tiny knives into her flesh.
Vlad looked at her, and saw the pain in her eyes. "Lysia is the love of my life. The war was finally over. We were going to start a family…" His grief burst out once again in the form of sobs.
Gabrielle swallowed. Whenever she came upon a vampari attack, she always hoped she was there in time to stop the killing. When she wasn't, she always buried the dead. It was atonement of sorts, for she didn't have a chance to bury Xena. "Do you need any help?"
Vlad nodded. "They are all dead. Everyone in my home is dead."
Gabrielle stayed and helped him bury the dead on his property. In his grief, he didn't notice how quickly she had dug the graves. As soon as he had prepared a body, the grave was ready. The last one was his wife. He gave his wife one final kiss, before gently laying her down in her final resting place and burying her.
Gabrielle silently turned to walk away.
"Wait! He walked up to her. "I never thanked you. Please, it is dangerous on the road at this time. Do me the honor of staying here and resting."
"It is best that I leave you to your grief."
He continued. "My name is Vlad. I am prince over these lands. I have been away for quite a long time. Things have changed. You can be of great assistance to me."
"I know who you are. I've heard stories about you. Go home, work through your grief and rule your lands. That is all you can do. I cannot be of any assistance to you."
"My people need protection. It is my job to do so. I'm going after them. I would love it if you could teach me how to fight them."
"You can't. You will never be as strong or as fast as them."
"You are." He watched as she glared at the woods. His voice was just above a whisper. "I have nothing to live for. She was my light, my life, my reason for living."
Hearing those words caused a great ache in Gabrielle's heart. She remembered Xena saying words very similar about her. A tear rolled down her cheek as the memory flooded her mind. She looked Vlad in the eyes, and saw that his pain matched her own. "I will accept your offer to stay for the rest of the night."
"Thank you…." He paused, waiting for her to introduce herself.
"Gabrielle. My name is Gabrielle."
It was mid morning before Gabrielle could hear movement in the house. She heard as a door opened and then closed, and footsteps going down the hall. She waited a few moments, and then left her room and went downstairs.
Vlad added logs to a large fire and then sat upon the stone hearth of the large fireplace. "Come sit, would you like something to eat or drink?"
So what brings you to my lands?"
"W…I was traveling back home to Greece from Japa. I was in Ardeal, and the town was attacked. I decided to stay and help."
"Really?" Vlad could tell there was more to the story. "So you stay just to help?"
"It is what I do." Once again, a flash of pain shone in her eyes as another memory of Xena filled her mind.
Vlad went to cabinet and opened it. He pulled out a wineskin. "Would you like some port?"
"It is too early for that."
"After what I've been through, it isn't too early." He poured two drinks. He handed one to Gabrielle. "You look like you need it as well."
"Thanks." She took the drink and looked at it. It was dark red. She placed the cup upon the table.
Vlad tossed his head back and he swallowed his drink. He proceeded to pour himself another. "So tell me, Gabrielle of Greece, how and where you learned to fight the vampari."
"How about I tell you a story? It will answer most of your questions. Then I must take my leave of you."
Curiosity filled the young prince. "Okay."
Gabrielle looked at the fire. "There were two people who were in love. They were soul-mates, and a wise-one once told them that their souls were intertwined for all eternity. Lifetime after lifetime, they would find each other. They lived and loved in that hope. But a certain god had other plans for them. With the help of vampari, he separated the two."
"The vampari attacked, and turned one into a vampire." From the corner of her eyes, she watched as he gripped at his sword. "The two soul-mates tried to stay together, but the need for blood became too strong. The vampire ran away, hoping that the soul-mate would take heed to the warnings, and go back home. But she was stubborn and she followed. She was killed."
"By the vampires?"
"No, by her soul-mate." Tears filled her eyes. "The hunger had taken over. She didn't have control of her actions, and by the time she came to, she was covered with her soul-mate's blood."
Vlad sat silently as his brain processed the information. "What happened to the vampire?"
"When the hunger was sated, the vampire saw what she had done. She couldn't believe it. She threw herself over a cliff, hoping that the rocks and crashing waves would end her. They were merciless, the rocks broke her bones, but didn't kill her, and the waves mockingly threw her body back on shore. She swore that day, the vampari would regret turning her." She stared into the fire as the tone of her voice became icy. "All I want is to feel their dried out bones crushed under my feet. And when the last of them lies dead in front of me, I will end this nightmare." She looked over at him. "You have a chance to one day rejoin your soul-mate. You two will have the chance to find each other again and again and again. I've lost that chance. I will not have the chance to be the person that I was destined to be…in this lifetime or the next one. That was taken from me, along with my love and my home. I have to walk this path. I will not take you with me."
They looked each other in the eye, the same pain reflecting in each other. "I want to help."
"You can't. You are human."
"I may not be able to fight them, but I can help. I have this castle, I have people loyal to me alone, and I have money & power. Every general needs a base of operations. One cannot fight a war without one. How are you going to learn to kill them without testing new weapons? And how are you going to capture them so you can test your ideas and weapons? My castle is perfect. It is far enough away from the main village. I don't have many visitors. And now, I have no servants."
"You do realize that I am one of them, don't you? I have to have blood."
"That is no problem. Do you actually have to kill a person? Can you have animal blood?"
"Animal blood only works for a little while. And no, I don't need to kill a person. It is only when the hunger takes over…that is the only time I kill."
"Good, it is settled. I will provide you with what you need. And you will provide me with knowledge. Starting with, how did you manage to kill that one last night?"
She woke up and stretched. She could smell the scents of beeswax and roses as they perfumed the air. She opened her eyes, and found herself in a very soft bed in the middle of a large room. In the center of the room was a large marble statue of the goddess of Love and off to the corner by a window, was a table full of fruit, bread and a pot of hot liquid.
Xena remembered Aphrodite getting her out of the tomb and she remembered agreeing with the goddess that she needed time for her to get her body working again. But that was the last thing she remembered. *That trip must have too more out of me than I thought.* The room was neat, but from the lack of décor, offerings and priests, Xena could tell that the room wasn't used much. Feeling the need to recharge her batteries, she climbed out of the bed and made her way to the table. She picked up a bunch of grapes and began to eat.
Aphrodite appeared, with a smile on her face. "Enjoying your meal? Eat up."
The warrior looked at the goddess. "Thanks for getting me out of that crypt." She was happy that her plan had work. Aphrodite's ambrosia had made her immortal, so now Gabrielle could do her no harm, and more importantly, they could stay together. "So where is Gabrielle?"
The goddess dropped her smile. "Xena, do you know how long you were out of it?"
The warrior shrugged, "A day or two."
The goddess shook her head. "More like four moons."
"There is more." The Goddess nervously motioned to the seat. "Why don't you sit down?"
The warrior's stance became more rigid. "I rather stand." When Aphrodite didn't immediately talk, she urged the goddess to continue. "Tell me."
The blonde deity sighed. "Gabrielle did just as you predicted, she attacked you. When she came to, she was in shock. Seeing your body, it caused her great pain, so I quickly brought you here." She watched as Xena nodded. "When I went back, she was gone. I went ahead with your plan, buried you so that Ares would think you were dead. Xena, I looked for her. I wanted to find her before Ares or Demetri found her. But none of us could find her. Weeks later, Ares found her attacking a vampire. I don't know what Ares did, but she snapped. She attacked him."
"It couldn't happen to a nicer fellow."
"It took Ares three days to gain the energy needed to get back to Olympus. When he did show up, he collapsed in the main hall. It took him three weeks to gain his strength back. I've never seen fear in his eyes before." She looked at Xena cautiously. "I have no idea where she is Xena."
"You have no idea?"
The goddess of love shook her head. "The only reason Ares found her was because of all the darkness and hate flowing from her. Ares stated that Gabrielle is more like Demetri. She doesn't need to feed as often as the others. She is quicker and stronger than the others. She has vowed to find a way to kill them all. She is fighting a one-man war against the vampari."
Xena sighed. She never anticipated that she would be out of commission for so long. She wondered how long Gabrielle could go without feeding. She knew that Gabrielle may unknowingly commit an atrocity if the hunger took over. A part of her hoped that Gabrielle took Demetri on his offer, but she knew that was highly improbable. But it did give her a starting point. "Aphrodite, I need for you to take me back to Ardeal."
Aphrodite, Argo and Xena materialized right outside of the village. The warrior turned to the goddess. "Thanks Aphrodite."
The goddess nodded. "If you need anything at all, just call me. I hope you find Sweet Pea." The goddess then disappeared with her signature light show.
Xena rode into town. She stabled Argo, and made her way to the Magistrate's office.
A small smile came to the magistrate's lips. "Xena? I thought we would never see you again. How I you friend? Did she make a full recovery?"
Xena felt no need to tell him the truth. "Actually, she is why I am here. She wanted me to help you. And the best way I can help is for you to tell me all you know about the vampari. Have you learned anything new since the last time I saw you."
The magistrate nodded. "Their attacks seem to be more spread out. Their last attack on this village could barely be called an attack. They did not even attack the village, but a farm outside of town. And even then, there were only three of them. Ever since we got the heads up that fire can destroy them, we keep the town well lit. We have four bonfires burning every night."
"Fire kills them? How did you learn that?"
"A herald came from Prince Vlad. The message stated that all towns and villages will burn bonfires, and keep torches lit. All men should keep swords on them at all times. If we are attacked, we should dismember them, and burn the body parts."
"He is the ruler of these lands. He returned about from war a little over two moons ago. Since then, rumors state that he has become a vampari hunter. Other rumors state that he himself is a vampari. I don't think the last is true. It is just that his taxes are so high, he seems like one." The magistrate laughed at his own joke.
"Where does this Prince Vlad stay?"
"He lives near Transylvania. He helped bring order to this land. Even though he demands a lot from us, he has given us hope as well. No one can place a price on that."
Xena smiled. She hoped this clue would pan out for her. Even if Prince Vlad didn't know Gabrielle, maybe he had heard something. "I wonder if he needs a hand?"
"As good as you fight, I'm sure he can put your skills to great use."
After getting directions, the warrior changed subjects. "I take it that you haven't heard from Demetri or Igoru."
The magistrate shook his head. "In fact, after you and your friend left town, we locked up the tavern. No one had expressed any interest in reopening the place. Then Prince Vlad's edict came forth about the bonfires, and storing flammable liquids. We now make and store liquid fire in the tavern."
The magistrate nodded. "It is potent stuff."
"Do you mind it I take a look at it?"
"Not at all." The two walked over to the former tavern. People were busy at work storing the barrels down in the wine cellar, or gently pouring the mixture in small clay jars, wineskins and flasks.
Xena smelled the liquid. Her heart joyfully leaped as she recognized the smell…greek fire. She knew who had to be responsible for giving Vlad the recipe. She turned and faced the magistrate. "It looks like you have everything under control here. I hope your town remains safe."
The magistrate smiled. "I wish you safe journey. And when you do finally get back to Greece, tell Gabrielle hello."
Xena allowed a smile to come to her lips. "I will."
With take, Xena took her leave, climbed upon Argo and set off for Transylvania.
"Again!" Ares ordered.
Demetri lifted his sword and charged at the God of War. He parried with the god, hoping to find an opening. Frustration set in and the demigod became impatient. He lunged at the god, leaving himself wide open.
Ares stabbed him through. Hearing his nephew scream, he pulled the sword out. He groaned in anger. "Damn it Demetri! This is why she is literally tearing your people to pieces. You are their leader. And you can't even handle a simple disarming technique! Xena was destroying towns in the same amount of time it took you to learn to parry. Gabrielle learned that disarm trick in one day!" He walked over to the prone man, placed a foot on Demetri's chest and a sword at his throat. "You are at war BOY! War is hell! She is out for your blood! She wants to destroy you. And she is doing a good job informing the humans on how to destroy your kind. Wake up and smell the air! It will be filled with the stench of burning vampari flesh if you don't get your head out of the clouds!"
Demetri pushed the god's foot off his chest. He quickly stood up. "Stop comparing me to them! And my head isn't in the clouds. That would be you Uncle Ares! The plan was simple: I turn Gabrielle, you give Xena Ambrosia and turn her into a god. Gabrielle and I would lead the army, while you, Aphrodite and Xena would form the new pantheon." He swiped her ebony hair from his eyes. "But ever since Xena died, you have showed little interest in the plan."
"Really? Why do you think I'm training you? Why do you think I told you to change your hunting tactics? Why do you think I told you to go after the soldiers returning from war?"
"And what good has that done for my children?"
Ares angrily walked over to Demetri until he was nose to nose with him. "STOP CALLING THEM THAT! The vampari are nothing more than a means to an end. They are not your children. They are soldiers, nothing more and nothing less. They were made to fight, to kill and to die for our cause." Ares stepped back and straightened his leathers. "Now, how many soldiers have you turned?"
"About 10. Is that enough?"
"There is no such thing as enough. Find more soldiers, and turn them. Heck, turn their families for all I care."
"We are trying to target those with no families. It does us no good if they come to hate us as much as Gabrielle does."
"Very good. Now that is how you use your brain."
"Well, even with all the soldiers, that gives us about eighty vampari."
"Eighty vampari? No human army will be able to stand up against those numbers."
Demetri sighed. "But there is a problem uncle. Some of the younger ones are much weaker than the ones I've turned. In fact, some of them get sick when they spend too much time outside."
Ares waved off the concern. "Just give them more blood, they will be fine. Just make sure that the ones who were soldiers are put in charge of training the others in combat skills." The god smiled at his nephew. The demigod had proven to be very useful to him. He may not have had Gabrielle leading his armies yet, but the small battles and skirmishes between the humans trained by Gabrielle and the vampari took the edge off his need. He knew a much bigger battle was on its way, and he looked forward to it. "Well nephew of mine, I have some good news." He placed his hand on this nephew's shoulder. "I can sense that the darkness is swallowing Gabrielle. And when it does, she will be ready to mold into the Heir. Then she will lead my armies, and shape this world into my own image," he tightened his grip, "with you by her side of course."
The demigod shrugged his uncle's hand off of him. "I don't see how that is possible since she hates me! She will never stand by my side."
"Never say never. Demetri, you need to learn that hate and love both springs from the same root… passion. Love can turn into hate, and hate into love. As long as she hates you, there is still a chance." He eyed his nephew. "Let me inform you about a secret. Every mortal has two soul-mates. One soul-mate brings out the light in a person. Xena and Gabrielle were just that. They kept each other from giving in to the darkness. However, Gabrielle also has a dark soul-mate, someone who can teach her how to give in to the darkness, how to relish in it, how to gain power and strength through it."
"And you were Xena's?"
Ares shook his head. "I wish. It was another mortal who brought that side out in Xena. I just used it to my benefit." He placed a hand on Demetri's shoulder. "Without Xena, she will give in to the darkness. You are the only one like her in this whole world. Gabrielle will eventually come to you." Ares stepped back and pulled out his sword. "Now, back to training. Did I ever teach you that the best defense is a strong offense?"
Gabrielle ignored the thunderstorm outside, and slowly poured the Greek Fire through a funnel into her two flasks. She had hoped to find another way to kill the vampari. Greek Fire did the job, but it was highly dangerous to both the vampari and to the villagers. There was already one accident that destroyed a small village. A thief broke into the town's storage. He dropped his torch, and it landed on a container of the highly flammable liquid. Within minutes, the entire village was destroyed. After that, Vald immediately instituted very strict laws against thieves…stealing meant death for the criminal. She remembered the prince's exact words…'better for one person to die than an entire village.' She plugged up both containers and set then aside.
The reluctant vampire reached over and grabbed her mug. She raised the container to her lips, and drank the special 'port' Vlad had made for her. She thought about the dark prince. He was very calculating, driven and idealistic. Vlad evoked both loyalty, fear and hatred among his subjects. He was loyal to those who were loyal to him, but with his enemies, he showed no mercy. She thought back on the day when he first ordered the execution of a thief… .
Later that day, a new bottle of 'port' showed up on the table to be served with dinner. Gabrielle eyed the bottle. As she opened it, she could smell the human blood as well as animal blood and the very strong, sweet port. She eyed her host as he eagerly ate his meal.
'Vlad,' she waited until her host had swallowed, "I don't mean to be rude or unappreciative, but I wonder how you got the blood.'
The prince gave her a small smirk. She intrigued him greatly…the reluctant killer who was so good at it. 'Gabrielle, animals are always being slaughtered. I have friends who are very loyal to me alone. I asked them to collect some of the blood and hand it over to me. I also have friends who are healers. When a person has a severe accident, they told collect the blood. Don't fear, that thief's blood is not in that container of port.' He watched as she visibly relaxed. "I know you may not understand, but rulers must enforce laws. I have to order the deaths of those who threaten the safety of the whole. As a general, there were times I had to order some of my men to their deaths, just so we could win the battle.'
She thought back when she had to lead the Amazons against Bellepheron and had to order Trudis on a suicide mission to create a distraction so the rest of the Amazons could escape. 'I understand Vlad. A leader needs to do things that are good for the whole, not just for the individual. A knowing glance was exchanged between the two of them.
Vlad wanted to find out more, but the bard had made it quite clear that her past was to remain just that…in the past. She didn't talk about it, even when she woke him up out of a deep sleep with her screams of 'XENA!' or 'NO!' in the middle of the night. But the prince was just as stubborn, and he was determined to learn more about his mysterious guest. "So, what army did you lead Gabrielle?"
She gave him a small smile before abruptly changing the subject. "I take it the meal was to your liking?"
"The only way it could be better would to have dessert. Lysia always said I had a sweet tooth."
Pain filled Gabrielle's eyes as a favorite memory of Xena begging for the sweet dumplings played in her mind. "Excuse me," she stated before leaving the table.
"It might help to talk about it-about her." Vlad watched as Gabrielle came to a stop. "You listen when I talk of Lysia. It was an accident; you had no control over…"
"It doesn't change things. Now if you will excuse me, I have a hunt to attend." The vampire quickly left the dining hall.
Gabrielle looked down at the two flasks. "Oh Xena, I long for the day when this nightmare will be over, and I can finally join you." Even though she knew there was little chance that the vampari would be out on a night like this, she still decided to go out and search for them. She placed a flask on each side of her waist.
Gabrielle opened the door as lightning lit up the night sky. In the doorway stood Vlad with his arm pinned behind him, a strong arm around his throat with various cuts and bruises decorating his face. Gabrielle took several steps backwards and another two vampari walked in. Gabrielle exposed her fangs in a snarl at the three vampari, but she did not attack.
"Listen up, hunter," the very muscular vampari tightened his hold on Vlad. "We will let your pet live if you agree to come with us. Our leader would like a word with you."
"Never mind me! Kill them!" Vlad managed to squawk before his arm supply was cut off by the tightening of the arm around his throat.
"Now are you going to play nice," the vampari lowered his mouth toward's the prince's neck, "or do you need some incentive?"
Gabrielle gave them a twisted smile. "You do realize if you kill him, you will die tonight?" She dropped her right hand and fingered a flask. "It looks like we are at a standoff."
"We outnumber you. You can't kill us all." It was then the large vampari screamed in pain and reached towards his back, letting go of Vlad. The prince ran to the fireplace and grabbed a sword from above the mantle; with a vampire giving chase.
Gabrielle used the distraction, and picked up a chair, smashing it into the nearest vampari. The chair broke, and various pieces landed on the floor. Two of the vampari focused their attention on the bard, while the very large one finally was able to pull the source of his pain from out of his back. He looked at the bloody dagger, and turned towards the door. A cloaked stranger stood in the open doorway. The very large vampire charged.
The cloaked stranger waited until the last possible moment and jumped out of the way. The vampire tried to stop himself, but he slid in the mud and fell. The stranger pulled out a sword, and ran it through the midsection of the vampire, pinning him to the ground. The stranger pulled out a clay jar from under the cloak, and poured its contents over the vampire. The vampire screamed, and struggled with the sword, but to no avail. He watched in horror as the stranger lit up a small bundle of dried straw and dropped it upon him.
The stranger watched as the flames licked at the body. "GABRIELLE, NO!" The anguished-filled scream caused the stranger to turn towards the castle and run inside. The stranger watched in horror as the vampire pulled the sword out of Gabrielle.
The bard dropped to her knees, clinching her midsection. Pain ran throughout her body, and for the first time in months, she felt cold. She looked at the vampire with defiance in her eyes.
The vampire stood triumphantly over his victim. "Demetri wanted you alive. Too bad." The vampire began raising the sword above his head.
The stranger wasted no time as she picked up a shattered wooden leg from the broken chair. She threw it hard into the back of the vampire, piercing him from behind.
The vampire dropped the sword, all his strength instantaneously dissipated. He too dropped to his knees, his eyes already covered with death. Gabrielle smiled and pushed the dead vampire over.
Vlad got to his feet and ran over to Gabrielle. He pulled Gabrielle's hands away from her wound and saw it was not healing. "I will be right back."
The stranger ran over, and gently cradled the blonde vampire to her chest. Gabrielle gasped as she heard the heartbeat. She took a breath and recognized the scent. Confusion shone from her yellow-green eyes. "Xena?"
The stranger pulled down her hood. Blue eyes met yellowing eyes. "Yes, Gabrielle. It's me." Xena applied pressure to Gabrielle's wounds. She eyed Vlad as he came back with a wineskin. "Why isn't she healing?"
"She hasn't drunk enough blood for her body to heal itself." Vlad lifted the wineskin to Gabrielle's lips and she eagerly drank the mixture down. Xena watched as the wound began to heal itself.
Gabrielle gently pushed the wineskin away. "Thank you," she barely whispered to her host.
"No thanks needed. If you hadn't pushed me out of the way, I would be dead." Thankfulness and regret filled Vlad's voice. "You saved me once again." He glanced over at the warrior and then over at Gabrielle. Knowing that the two needed to talk, he stood up. "Let me show you to a room. There are clean shifts in the wardrobe. Then you will have to excuse me," he glanced over at the dead vampire, and the dismembered one, "I have to clean up."
"There is a fire already burning outside."
Vald nodded at the warrior. He watched as Xena gently carried Gabrielle up the stairs and into the room. He then left the two women alone.
Each woman continued to stare at each other. Gabrielle reached up and gently touched Xena's face, tracing her eyes, her cheek and lips. "Please tell me I'm dead and this isn't a dream I'm going to wake from."
Xena smiled as her eyes glistened. "You are not dead. This isn't a dream."
Xena gently covered Gabrielle's lips with a finger. "I will explain everything to you, as soon as we have rested. It has been a very long day, and you need to regain your strength."
Xena walked around the room and lit some candles. She got out of her wet clothes and changed into a shift. Gabrielle did the same. As soon as she saw that Gabrielle had crawled into the bed, she doused the candles and joined her soul-mate. "Get some rest."
Gabrielle refused to close her eyes. "No, not yet." Tears welled up in her eyes.
Xena bent down and kissed her forehead. "I'm going to be right here, when you wake up in the morning. I promise you."
Gabrielle laid her head upon Xena's shoulder, inhaling deeply. Xena lovingly ran her fingers through he blonde locks over and over again, hoping to soothe away Gabrielle's anxiety. The bard fought sleep as much as possible, but soon her eyes gave in. Xena quickly followed her into the land of dreams.
All she could smell was the faint scent of bergamot mixed with a scent that was strictly Xena. It was spicy, hot and very…..bloody. Gabrielle opened her eyes. The warrior princess laid prone, the crimson liquid soaking the sheets, and covered her throat. Gabrielle screamed in anguish.
Xena woke up with a start as her soul-mate screamed in her sleep. She gently touched Gabrielle on the shoulder. She watched as Gabrielle, in one fell swoop, woke up and jumped out of the bed and landed on her feet on the cold stone floor, breathing heavily. "Gabrielle, it is alright." The petite warrior continued to stare at the bed. Xena slowly made her way to the edge of the bed. "Hey, it was a nightmare. Everything is okay."
Gabrielle closed her eyes, and a solitary tear rolled down her right cheek. She had nightmares every night that replayed the night she attacked Xena. But this one was different, for the scene was not one of the past. "Did I hurt you?" She watched as Xena shook her head. "Good." She took a deep breath. "Listen Xena, I'm sorry." She wanted to embrace her, but she held back, only allowing herself to touch Xena's cheek. "I can't believe you are here. How is that possible?"
Xena leaned into the touch. "Come sit by me." She waited until Gabrielle sat down next to her on the bed. "Do you remember when Demetri had followed us?" She could feel Gabrielle's body tightened in response to her question. "It took a while, but I came up with a plan. Ares let it slip that there was still some Ambrosia left in the world. I asked Aphrodite to give me some of it. I ate it and became immortal."
"I thought I had killed you." Gabrielle began to cry as the painful event ran through her mind.
Xena pulled the bard close. "I know, and I am so sorry. I had no idea that I would be out for so long. I wasn't going to let them separate us Gabrielle. It was the only way."
"You should have let Aphrodite take you to Greece."
Xena pulled back. "I wasn't going to abandon you. That was NEVER an option."
"War rule #7… no option is ever off the table."
Xena smirked as Gabrielle recited the war rule she had taught the bard a very long time ago. "We are not at war Gabrielle. Besides, going back to Greece without you would have meant death for me."
"You almost died anyway."
Xena looked Gabrielle in the eyes. The green orbs were filled with sadness, pain, guilt and regret. Xena wished she could come up with the right words to ease Gabrielle's pain, but words weren't her specialty. She was a woman of action. She leaned in and kissed Gabrielle. She started out gentle, then increased the passion, hoping to show how much she loved and needed the woman sitting next to her.
Gabrielle leaned into the kiss, tasting everything that Xena had to offer. Her breath, her scent, her lips…everything was intoxicating to the vampire. She wanted more…so much more. She could feel the pangs of hunger and desire as they blended into a new exquisite type of pain. She pulled back from the kiss slowly, fighting against her desires. "You have no idea what you do to me, do you? I hate to end this but I need to meet with the village leaders."
Xena leaned her forehead against Gabrielle's. "Do you want me to go with you?"
"No. Besides, you couldn't keep up with me. I promise I will be back as soon as I can." Without waiting for a response, Gabrielle stood up, walked over to the window and jumped out.
Xena ran to the window, panic filling her face. She watched as Gabrielle landed on her feet gracefully and ran for the woods, disappearing from her sight. Xena shook her head, wondering what other surprises Gabrielle had in store for her.
Gabrielle ran until she was sure no one could see her and then slowed her pace. She took a couple of deep breaths, hoping that would clear her head and cool her blood. *What is going on with me?* She knew she wasn't truly hungry; yet she wanted Xena's blood…badly. In fact, this hunger was mixed with her love and her passion. Flashbacks of the nightmare filled her mind. She closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to erase the images. She never wanted to hurt Xena, but it seemed that she was destined to do so.
She stopped just outside of the village and scanned the area. During her time here, she figured out the pattern to the vampari attacks. She had been very successful in protecting the various villages. With Vlad's help, they were able to teach the villagers to defend themselves using liquid fire. But lately, their attacks have been sporadic, without a pattern. They had, without warning, changed their attacks to after sunset. After last night's attack, she knew they were becoming disparate, which meant they were becoming more dangerous. But thanks to their stupid plot, they may have discovered a new weapon at their disposal… a weapon that had been in plain sight all along. Gabrielle picked up a stick and looked at it. *After tonight, we will know.* The young woman threw down the stick and entered into the village.
Xena practiced her drills in the back courtyard. She could feel that she was being watched, and after a few more practiced roundhouse kicks, she placed her sword in the scabbard and walked through the garden trail.
On either side of he trail where various kinds of Dog Roses, Lilacs, Peony, Daisies, Tulips and wildflowers. Their scents perfumed the morning air. Xena smiled as she looked at the Daisies-- they were Gabrielle's favorite flower. She continued to walk until the trail ended at a gravesite. There were four graves: the three that were in the back had regular pointed granite headstones. But the one that sat in the front had a huge clover headstone, also made of granite. On it read:
Loving Wife and Princess
Xena could feel Vlad's presence before he even spoke. He walked up and stood by her side, a bouquet of Dog Roses in his hand. Sadness filled his eyes as he began to speak. "Gabrielle taught me the term soul-mate. Lyssa was mine. She was everything to me." He bent down and placed the bouquet on the grave. "The vampari killed her and the others."
"Sorry for your loss."
He stood up and looked her in the eye. "Sorry, forgive me. I don't think we were properly introduced. I am Prince Vlad, ruler of these lands."
He interrupted. "Xena, yes I know." He watched as her eyebrow quirked. "Gabrielle would scream out your name every night. I tried to get her to talk about you, but she would never would. Last night was the first time she has ever said your name willingly." A sad smile dressed his lips. "I was hoping that you would be able to end the nightmares." He tilted his head to the side. "I guess I will now have to provide blood for two vampari."
"I am not a vampire."
Confusion filled the prince's face. "But Gabrielle said she bit you. She said the hunger had taken over, and she had no control over it."
"She told you the truth."
"So how did you survive a vampire attack?"
Seriousness filled her expression. "I have many skills."
A smirk pulled at the corner of the prince's lips. "Well, one with many skills, you are welcomed into my home. Perhaps you can tell me how you killed that vampire without the use of liquid fire."
"To tell you the truth, I don't know." She replayed the events from the previous night. "I saw what he had done to Gabrielle, so I grabbed the first thing I could get my hands on."
"I see. Nevertheless, it was very effective. Thank you."
"It is I who should be thanking you. Not too many people would invite a vampire into their home. Thank you for being there for Gabrielle."
"She saved my life. She has given hope to my people. They are gaining back their sense of worth and they are fighting back." Vlad looked up at the sky and saw the Sun's position. "Would you do me the honor of having a meal with me?"
Xena was getting restless, but she wanted to be at the castle when Gabrielle returned. "I have to attend to some business. How about dinner?"
"Sound good. Until then." The Prince bowed and headed back towards the castle.
Xena waited for the bard, but hours had past, and there was still no sign of her. The warrior tired of waiting; headed towards the stable. She saddled her steed, and rode to the village.
Once she had stabled Argo Jr., the warrior remembered that Gabrielle had mentioned the town leaders. After asking some villagers, she managed to find the mayor of the town.
The mayor was a balding tall man, slightly stout. From the faded scars on his cheeks, one could tell he had seen his fair share of battles. He looked up as Xena entered the building. He noticed the armor and her confident stride. "May I help you?"
"I hope you can. My name is Xena. I believe a person that I'm looking for came to this village. She blonde, petite, but she is a warrior." Xena saw the glint of recognition in his eyes, but just as quickly it disappeared.
The mayor looked sown at his paperwork. He had fought by the Prince's side in several battles.
He, along with other village leaders, swore an oath of loyalty to Vlad, an oath he was proud to take; an oath that included keeping secrets for Prince Vlad and his guest. "No, I cannot say I've seen anyone like that around here." He raised his eyes to the warrior, a stoic mask firmly placed upon his face.
Xena gave the man an unfriendly smile. "Well, when you do see her, please tell her that I am looking for her?"
"Why are you looking for this person? Are you a bounty hunter?"
"No, I'm a friend. Listen, if you don' believe me, ask Prince Vlad."
"Really? If that is truly the case, then you better ask Prince Vlad himself. I will not betray his trust to a stranger." He walked over to the door and opened it. "Now if you will excuse me, I have some important matters that need my attention." After she left, he closed the front door, then he quietly went to the back door. He called over a young boy and whispered in his ear. He gave him some coins. "Go now." He watched as the boy rushed off, to do his bidding.
She walked throughout the village, hoping to find Gabrielle. She looked through the usual spots: the marketplace, the tavern and the village square, but Xena couldn't find her. The warrior noticed that some of the townfolk now eye her warily, while others have open hostile looks towards her. Deciding upon the better part of valor, the warrior princess headed back to the stables. 'Looks like I'm going to have a very early dinner with Prince Vlad,' she stated to herself as she rode out of the village.
Xena entered the castle and headed straight towards the dining hall. Vlad was seated at the head of the table, a small meal of venison, cheese and bread was prepared before him. "Xena, please sit, join me. Sorry about the meager fare, but I don't do much cooking, and since Gabrielle has taken up residence here, I decided that it was best to have no servants.
Xena sat down, her stoic mask clearly on her face. "I went to the village Vlad. The mayor seemed very loyal to you. I couldn't find out any information about Gabrielle's whereabouts."
"Gabrielle comes and goes as she pleases."
"She said she was going to the village to talk to its leaders."
"Did she tell you which village? Or did you just assume it was the closest one?" He watched as she remained silent. "She is a vampire. They can travel in hours what takes us days to do on horseback."
"I know that Vlad. Listen, I am a stranger to the townspeople, so I understand their reluctance. But you know who I am. Gabrielle was acting strange this morning, and I just wanted to make sure she is all right."
"She probably has a lot on her mind. During the day, she trains the various villagers. When she goes out during the night, she hunts vampires. And now, after seeing you kill a vampire with a chair leg, she probably has a new idea for a weapon, therefore, she will stay out longer than normal… normal being a few candlemarks before daybreak. So don't be surprise if you don't see her until tomorrow."
"Why didn't you tell me this earlier?"
Prince Vlad laid down his cheese knife. "Gabrielle is loyal to me, she keeps my secrets, and I keep hers."
"Gabrielle and I don't have secrets. You may have been her confidant for the past moon or more, and I thank you for that. But now, I am back."
"And until Gabrielle tells me otherwise, I will treat you as I do all others: need to know basis. So may I suggest you talk to Gabrielle."
"I will." Without eating, Xena stood from the table, and walked out of the dining hall. Without any clues to the whereabouts of her soul-mate, Xena climbed the stairs and entered into Gabrielle's room, waiting for her return.
Hours past and soon Morpheus overtook Xena. The sun had barely broken over the horizon when she awoke the next morning alone. Knowing that Vlad wasn't going to be much help, Xena decided to go back to town, to get supplies and to see if she could find answers.
As she came near the town, the stench of rotting flesh filled her nostrils. She urged her steed into a gallop and raced towards the village. As she entered the village, she could see the town's people making their way to the village square. The warrior decided to follow the crowd on foot. As she walked closer towards the square, the smell grew worst. Finally she saw the source of the offending odor. Her stomach gagged as the bodies came into view.
A dozen impaled bodies lined the square, each one with a thick stake running through their chest, exiting their back and impaling them in an upright position. Xena looked at the pale bodies closely: some showed obvious signs of being in a fight as stab wounds were sprinkled on their bodies. Others had no signs at all, as though they were caught completely off guard. She watched as people began to break off into groups. Some people began to wail and cry out names, hugging the bodies. The warrior watched as the mayor and several men pulled the body of a young woman off a stake, tears silently rolling down their cheeks. Xena scrunched her eyes in concern as she spotted a scroll that was hung on a post in front of the bodies. She walked over and read it:
People of the land,
By order of our Great Prince Vlad Dracul
These enemies of peace have been found guilty,
Their death quickened by the stake.
You have three days to claim the bodies of your loved one
Before the bodies will be turned over
Their ashes scattered by the four winds to the four corners of the earth.
Xena shook her head in dismay and proceeded to head back to the castle. Without stabling Argo Jr., she entered the castle. She could hear voices in the main dining room. As she entered, she saw Vlad and Gabrielle standing by the table, having a drink. The Warrior Princess made a bee-line directly towards the prince, anger blazing in her eyes. 'Open season on your people Vlad?" Without taking her eyes off the prince, she questioned Gabrielle, "Tell me you had nothing to do with what I just saw."
Gabrielle sighed. She was emotionally and physically tired; in addition, Xena's scent was assaulting all her senses. She quickly swallowed a mouthful of her drink, but it did nothing to quench her thirst. "And what did you see?" she asked weakly.
"Those bodies in the village…"
Vlad interrupted the Warrior Princess. "You have no right to question what goes on here in my kingdom."
"A monster that does that to his people is not fit to rule."
"How dare you…" Gabrielle placed a hand on Vlad's shoulder. The dark prince held his tongue as he looked up and saw the hurt in Gabrielle's eyes.
Gabrielle then turned her attention to Xena, hiding the hurt behind a stoic mask. "Vlad didn't order the executions. We discussed it, and I felt it was best. I was the one who impaled them."
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. "You said it yourself, I'm a monster."
Xena shook her head. "I didn't mean…"
"Yes you did." She watched as the Warrior took a step towards her. "Don't! I can't deal with you or this right now, okay?"
Xena finally took a hard look at Gabrielle and saw the mostly yellow eyes and the splotches of blood that covered Gabrielle's leathers. "Gabrielle, let me help."
"You can't help. You will only make things harder." Gabrielle fled the main dining hall, and headed up the stairs.
Vlad watched as Xena started to head towards the stairs. "If you must know," he watched as Xena came to a halt, "she did it for their families."
The Warrior Princess turned and faced the Prince. "Their familes?"
Prince Vlad nodded. "Personally, I prefer if we continue to burn the vampari. But Gabrielle insisted that we impale them-- it gives their families a chance to properly bury them, to say goodbye." He walked up to the Warrior Princess and looked her dead in the eyes. "Does that sound like a monster to you?"
"No; it sounds like Gabrielle." Xena's blue eyes glistened. "Why didn't she tell me?"
"She is trying to push you away. She believes she is doing it for your own good."
"Did she tell you that?"
Vlad shook his head. "If Lysia was alive and I was a vampire, I would be doing the same thing. If your positions were reversed, wouldn't you try to push her away as well?"
Memories flooded Xena's mind: the early days when they first started to travel together, the time of her visions of their impeding crucifixions, and the time she sent Gabrielle on a wild goose chase as she prepared herself to face her death in Japa. Each time, she pushed Gabrielle away, telling herself it was for Gabrielle's own good. "I have. Thank the gods it didn't work then. It won't work now."
A small smile graced the prince's lips. "I know this will seem like a silly question, but do you love her?"
Without hesitation, Xena replied. "Yes."
Vlad nodded. "Then you have a choice to make Xena. Either you love her enough to let her go or you love her enough to accept all she is and has become." He motioned her to follow him as he led her to the main hallway. "If you truly believe and want for you two to be together, there can be no secrets. Tonight, after dark, go down this hall. You will come to a coat of arms. Pull down the right arm. The wall will move, and open a secret passage way to the dungeon below. If you can handle what you will see tonight, then perhaps you can truly love Gabrielle for whom and what she has become."
"I don't need to see that to know that I love all of who she is."
Vlad eyed her. "We will see, won't we?"
Xena paced back and forth in the bedroom that once belonged to Gabrielle. In the time it took for Vlad to question her, the bard had gone upstairs and cleaned out the room, moving herself to other sleeping quarters. Anger and confusion rose inside of the Warrior Princess. Anger she could deal with; she had plenty of experience with that particular emotion. But confusion…. She didn't like it one bit. With every step she tried to make, Gabrielle was determined to keep her distance. Xena wanted to help, but she didn't know how. *Hopefully tonight,* she thought to herself *will give me some answers.* Vlad had warned her that Gabrielle had changed. But the warrior knew better. Her diet may have changed, some of her physical characteristics may have been altered slightly, but she was still Gabrielle.
Xena waited until the sun had fully settled, before making her way to the main hall and the coat of armor. She did exactly as Vlad had instructed, and the secret passageway revealed itself. The way was not lit; the air was stale and damp. She grabbed a torch from the wall of the main hall and slowly made her way down the stone stairs.
The stairs finally ended into a narrow hall, both sides engulfed by stone walls. On the left wall were peek holes and on the right were torch holders. Xena smiled as she appreciated the structure. Anyone who knew about the passageway could see what was going on in the dungeon without being noticed. She wondered how many times Vlad used this particular passage.
She placed the torch in a holder so that no one in the dungeon would be able to spot it. Inside of the dungeon were dozens of people. She could sense their nervousness and excitement. They were loud, yelling and cheering. Her eyes turned to a very large cage. Inside, she could see what was riling the crowd.
Inside the cage were two people. The male was tall and strong. He faced the crowd, hissing at them. It was then, Xena noticed his fangs. "Vampari," she whispered.
The vampire grabbed the bars and shook them. All that stood between him and a feast was the metal bars. He had no idea of how he got here. The last thing he remembered was attacking a village girl. He remembered sinking his teeth into her creamy flesh and sucking her life-flow into his throat. Then pain, sharp pain that first entered his right shoulder, then his left. He awoke here, inside a cage, surrounded by humans.
Gabrielle's face was completely emotionless as she stared at the vampire. She then glanced at the crowd. Many of them were leaders of the various nearby villages and clans. She had taught them how to use Greek fire and she trained many of the villagers in basic combat skills. Now, she was going to demonstrate the latest weapons in their battle against her kind. She wore her full leathers, but around her waist was a special belt. The belt held 2 wooden stakes, the same length as her sais, .and four smaller stakes, the size of throwing knives.
Gabrielle turned her attention back to the vampire. It was easy enough to capture him, he was young and hungry, and made the foolish mistake of attacking a villager too close to town. Using wooden projectiles, they had immobilized him. It was only an hour ago that she feed him enough blood so he would be fit for the battle ahead. She whistled, causing him to turn around. "What's your name?"
His brown eyes narrowed. "Why?"
An insincere smirk graced her lips as she pulled out a sai and tossed it to him. "So we can know what to put on your tombstone." She then pulled out a small wooden stake.
He smiled. "You are going to need something better than a giant toothpick to kill me." He then lunged at her.
She shook her head at his overconfidence as she easily side-stepped him. As he turned around, she threw the wooden stake into his thigh. He screamed in agony, his body toppling over as his leg became useless. He rolled to his back, and reached for the offending weapon, but it was too late.
Gabrielle pounced upon him, straddling his waist, blocking him from reaching for his thigh. She received several blows to her face. She returned a head butt and then shoved another small wooden stake into his right shoulder. His left shoulder received the same treatment.
Panic filled the vampire's face as his body laid on the stone floor. He could feel his strength oozing out from the wounds. He looked at his captor, and saw the disgust in her eyes. "Traitor. The others will find out."
Gabrielle braced herself. Her stomach flipped in anticipation. The petite blonde lowered her head to his ear and whispered "But not from you." She then ran her hand through his hair, gently pulled back his head, exposing his throat, and sank her fangs into his flesh.
He tried to twist his head around, his healthy leg pushing against the ground, but he didn't have the leverage needed. He gasped as she drained all his strength away from him.
The crowd grew silent as they watched in fascinating horror. Most of the crowd never witnesses a feeding. And those that had never saw one up close.
Gabrielle finally pulled her head back. The vampire was still alive, his breath labored. Without another word, Gabrielle stood up so that the crowd could still see that he was alive. Then she pulled out a large stake and then with all her strength, drove through his heart. The sound of his death song rang through the air, and echoed off the walls of the dungeon.
Gabrielle pulled back once she saw that he was dead. She didn't need to feed, but she needed to guarantee that the villagers would do exactly as she had requested. Some of them had come to think of her as a guardian…something she could not have them thinking if they were to put her plan into action. She slowly stood up and turned.
The group gasped as they looked into her blood-red eyes. They stepped backwards as Vlad unlocked the cage and she stepped through the door. She took a deep breath before she spoke. "As you can see, these weapons are highly efficient. I already asked your blacksmiths and wood workers to make as many of these as possible. Make sure that every person has at least two stakes. After tomorrow, you will have no need of me."
They crowd nodded and cheered. They finally had a weapon that was far less dangerous than the liquid fire. As the crowd cheered, an older man nervously stuck his forearm out, offering it to Gabrielle. As she grasped it, he simply stated "Godspeed on your next journey." Gabrielle nodded as she swallowed a lump in her throat. There was only one loose end left, and hopefully Vlad would be able to deal with it.
Xena couldn't hear the conversation over the roar of the gathering. She continued to watch until the crowd began to leave the dungeon, then she made her way back up the steps. Once she entered the main hall, she pushed up the arm, and watched as the secret passage closed. She then walked down the main hall and up the stairs to the bedroom.
As she replayed the evening's events in her mind, she remembered Vlad's words to her from earlier-- Either you love her enough to let her go or you love her enough to accept all she is and has become. What she saw tonight at first shocked her. It wasn't Gabrielle's ruthlessness that shocked her. She had seen that side of Gabrielle before. Her eyes turning red were a surprise, but that even didn't shock her. What had shocked her was the sensuality of the feeding- how gentle Gabrielle was with him right before she bit him. Xena wondered if Gabrielle would be just as gentle with her. If I don't find the right words, I may never find out.
She knew she had put her foot in her mouth earlier. She didn't want to give the petite bard another reason to push her away. She knew Gabrielle would take any questionable word and cast it into a negative light. She had many skills, but when it came to using words, Gabrielle had her beat. Xena sighed, and gathered her thoughts. She knew Gabrielle's schedule, but she doubt that the blonde vampire would go hunting tonight. She decided it was best to talk to Gabrielle early in the morning, before she left to train the villagers. The one thing she was certain of…she loved Gabrielle, all of her.
Gabrielle cleaned her armor. Then she sat at the desk and penned a letter. She had to stop several times as the tears threatened to spill upon the parchment. She finally finished the note and sealed it with some candlewax. She then took the note and walked to the library.
Sitting at a table was Vlad. It was very early morning, and the sun had barely peeked over the horizon. Yet, the room was well lit, thanks to the various candles and the fire roaring in the fireplace. He looked into her eyes and sighed. He had hoped she would have changed her mind. He glanced at the parchment in her hand. "So you are going through with this plan?" He watched as she slowly nodded. He stood up and walked towards her. "Gabrielle, there are…"
"Don't," she interrupted. "Don't make this harder than it needs to be." She looked him in the eye. "I need an honest answer from you." She took a deep breath. "Will you be able to give the order?"
Vlad squared his shoulders as though he was on the battlefield. "I will be as loyal to you, as you are to me."
"That is not what I asked you."
"That is the most honest answer I can give."
Gabrielle sighed and nodded in understanding. "Well then, I need for you to stay here." She handed him the note. "Make sure she gets this." She refused to look him in the eye, fearing that her tears would start anew. "Vlad, you have been my friend during this time. I trust you with the most important person in my world."
"I will make sure she gets it." He watched as she turned away and made her way to the doorway. "Gabrielle, I don't understand. Xena is alive, you didn't kill her. Why are you still hell-bent on this?" It then dawned on him. "That story that you told me…you didn't tell me everything, did you?"
Her shoulders dropped, as though the weight of the world was on her. "No," she whispered, "I didn't." Fearing that Vlad would not drop the subject, she quickly walked out of the library and headed for a window. As she jumped, she breathed a sigh of relief. Her unorthodox exiting method meant that no one could follow her. She looked back at the castle. "Goodbye Xena. Forgive me." She then raced off to meet the others.
Vlad quickly entered the bedroom. Before he could make a sound, he felt two quick thrust, one on each side of his neck. He fell to his knees in tremendous pain. Before him were two very long legs attached to one very angry Warrior Princess.
Two icy blue eyes stared down at the Prince. "I have just cut off the blood flow to your brain. You have thirty second to live unless I take the pinch off of you. Why are you sneaking into this room?" she growled.
"Gabrielle….wanted me…to give....you…this."
She snatched the parchment out of his hand and then took the pinch off of him. She opened the letter and read it. A gasped escaped from her lips. "How long ago did she leave?"
"Just a few moments ago. She wanted me to wait until you woke up, but I knew better." He rubbed the sides of his neck. "She is on a suicide mission. She is leading an army of some of my finest soldiers and villagers to destroy the vampari. After they kill them all, they will turn against her when she gives the order. I was supposed to be the one giving the order, but I couldn't do it. So she left me behind to give you that note."
"Where is the battle?" It was then they heard a very distant boom. They both ran to the window. They saw smoke rising up far into the mountains. Xena quickly donned her leather armor over her shift. Without a word, grabbed her weapons and ran from the room.
Vlad glanced back at the window. "Good luck Xena."
Demetri turned and watch as the small stronghold quickly burned to the ground. Over half of his children managed to escaped, but many never had a chance. He shook his head in disbelief, no one but his children knew where the stronghold was located. And yet, somehow, Gabrielle and her human army knew its whereabouts well enough for the catapults to make a direct strike.
He looked around as the vampari gathered around him, looking to him for guidance. He had hoped for more time to turn others, but time had obviously run out. "My children, fall upon them. Show them no mercy. Remember your training! Go!" They were his army after all, and each one could easily take out 4 or 5 humans. He watched as the vampari split into 3 groups. He smiled as he saw they indeed remembered. He had nothing to worry about.
The breeze swept her golden locks back as she engaged the enemy. She could smell the scent of burnt flesh and Greek fire as the catapults aim was true. She could see at least 50 vampari quickly moving towards her and the humans. She increased her speed, putting distance between herself and the rest of the front line. She pulled out a sword, and began her task. Her plan was simple: take out as many of them as possible by maiming them and let the humans finish them off. She continued to hack away; her strokes would have been deadly if her opponents had been mortal. She refused to use the lone wooden spike she had at her side, for she was saving it for her final battle.
The front group engaged Gabrielle, and wasn't having much success. Sadness filled Demetri's face as he watched them get cut down by her sword, and then the humans drove stakes through them. Grief turned into confusion as he saw that his children were not getting up. Shock filled his face. "No, this can't be."
He watched as the other two groups of vampari flanked either side of the human forces. They were having more success, taking out some of the human forces. Yet for some of the younger members of the brood, the scent of so much human blood proved to be too much for them, and as they bit a victim, another human drove the wooden weapons deep into them. The stronger vampari were holding their own, and bit by bit were surrounding the humans. Demetri ran towards the battle, determined to end this conflict once and for all, and to give his side the advantage.
Ares looked down upon the raging war from the safety perch of Mount Olympus. He smiled wickedly as the battle progressed. It wasn't exactly how he had planned for things to unfold. However, it would more than do. "Pretty soon, the prey will become the predators. And Demetri, my little pet, you will soon be dead. You were the only other person who could teach Gabrielle how to fight against the hunger and the darkness welling up inside." He faced became somber as he thought of another. "Oh Xena. I'm sorry. You didn't have to die. If only you had taken the Ambrosia. It didn't have to be like this. You could have been right here, by my side, watching Gabrielle take up her rightful mantle as your Heir. After all, you taught her everything she knows. But you didn't teach her enough. She will soon be mine." He glided away from the view, certain of the outcome.
After Ares left, Aphrodite came out from behind a marble pillar. She went to the balcony to see the battle. She usually didn't interfere with Ares' plans; there was no need to since he usually failed when it came to Gabrielle and Xena. But now, his plan involved the death of her last remaining nephew, a nephew she wanted to know. Bacchus was her favorite brother, they partied together, they laughed together, and he was the first of the Olympians to throw a party for any reason. She smiled as the memories filled her mind.
She knew what she had to do. She just hoped that Ares would forgive her.
Xena urged her golden steed to race as fast as possible. Gabrielle had a head start that only was a few candle-drips, but those moments were enough for the battle to have begun. Xena knew that battles took hours to fight, and she was going to need every one of them in order to catch up with the petite warrior-bard.
Xena's mind reflected a battlefield: anger, sadness, confusion all rolled around. A large part of her just wanted to get in there, grab Gabrielle, and leave the people and vampari of this land to decide their own fate. She didn't understand why Gabrielle was doing this. Hadn't her becoming immortal solved the main problem? Then Gabrielle's words came back to haunt her… "Don't follow me Xena. Don't try to find me. And if you ever find a way to destroy them, make sure I'm the first."
"Not today, Gabrielle. You will not die today." She snapped the reins, determination filling her to her very core.
Gabrielle grimaced as the smell of the blood-soaked earth ran through her nostrils. *Good thing I fed last night,* she thought to herself as she watched a vampire try to fed, making himself an easy target for a strike from behind, *or they may had to give the order sooner than later.
When the vampari had seemingly surrounded her men, she looked up at the woods. Within moments, the cavalry had broken through the forest, soldiers, each armed with long wood spikes, urged their horses forward, impaling vampari through the back. She looked around, and seeing that her men had things well in hand, she made her way through the carnage, anticipating his next move.
She didn't have to wait long. He grabbed her from behind and swung her around. Before she could react, he uppercut her, she flew a good twenty paces. He ran after her to continue the attack.
Demetri took a moment to look back at his kind. The cavalry was just too much for his children. He knew the day was lost. Anger and a sense of lost filled him. He turned and watched as Gabrielle quickly rose to her feet. "Why?"
Gabrielle twisted her neck back and forth until she heard a satisfying pop. "Do you really need to ask? You ruined so many lives."
"I gave you the gift of immortality."
"Immortality, huh? You might want to look around at your so-called gift." She tilted her head towards the battlefield.
Demetri turned around. Shock filled his features as he watched several vampari barely putting up a fight, some were dying with smiles upon their faces. "No, it can't be."
"What is it Demetri? You thought I was the only one who hated your gift?" She pulled out her set of wooden throwing knives. "You see Demetri, we are not immortal, just unnatural. And all it takes are elements of the natural world to kill us. Fire and wood from the earth are the weapons."
Demetri turned, a snarl firmly placed on his lips. "We are not like them Gabrielle."
"We shall soon see." With that she threw two of the knives. Each one sank into his thighs. The third was driven through his right knee, while a fourth struck him in the stomach. Demetri eyes went wide, and he sunk to the ground. He found it very hard to breath, and pain racked his body.
Gabrielle kneed down near his head and noticed how his eyes were slowly becoming yellow. "It is over Demetri."
Blood dripped from his mouth as he spoke. "You can't kill me. There are things you don't know, things only I can show you."
Sadness filled her eyes and she saw four of her men coming towards them, the others were busy attending to the wounded and the dead. "There is no need. Besides, I could never trust you Demetri. I hate everything about you. There is only one other person I hate more." She looked straight into his brown eyes. "And that is me."
The men surrounded the two of them. She looked at them and nodded. They also had a set of wooden throwing knives. Without another word, they drilled them into her upper body. She felt them as they sank into her flesh, causing immense pain. Her blood poured out from the wounds. She toppled over onto her back, causing the ones there to sink in deeper. She screamed out in agony before the pain overwhelmed her conscious.
The men pulled out two stakes. The plan had been simple: immobilized them with the daggers, and then kill them with a stake through the heart. If that didn't work, then they were to be burned alive. The men formed a circle around the couple. The strongest of the men took a stake and lifted them above their heads, readying themselves to drive through their ribcage and into their hearts.
The only sound was a 'whoosh' as the tips of the wooden spikes hit the men in the head. Then stunned soldiers looked around. The flying object bounced off a few trees, then proceeded to head towards the men again. As they ducked out of the way, their eyes followed the foreign weapon. They watched as a dark-haired tall warrior woman snatched the object out of the air.
Xena snarled at the men. "If I throw this again, it will be your heads. Go; gather the bodies of your wounded and dead. Then get out!"
The men looked at each other; then down at the cleanly sawed and useless sticks in their hands. They could feel anger and power rolled off of the warrior as she stepped closer to them. They decided to take heed, and made their way back to the battlefield.
Xena ran to Gabrielle's side with a wineskin in her hand. She was unconscious, barely breathing. She gently pulled the wooden obtrusions from the bard's chest and stomach. She then rolled her over onto her side. Unfortunately, the ones in her back had either sank all the way in or had broken off. Xena opened the wineskin, sat Gabrielle up, and poured the crimson liquid down her throat. The warrior was glad she had the presence of mind to grab several wineskins before leaving Prince Vlad's castle. She turned and looked at Demetri.
Demetri's yellowing eyes were full of tears as he stared at the two women. "I'm sorry. I never meant… Since I was 17, Uncle Ares told me stories about you and Gabrielle. After all these seasons, it was like I knew her. And when I first saw her… I thought we were meant to be. And Uncle had promised… He said that she was my soulmate and that I was her other soul-mate. She was the only one like me in this whole world. I never thought she would hate me so much. I'm so sorry."
"Xena walked over to him, and helped him sit up. "Drink this. It will help."
He could smell the blood and the port and began to eagerly drink the mixture. After a few swallows, his body began to slowly eject the wooden knives. He watched as his body started to heal himself. "Why are you helping me?"
Xena sighed. She looked down at Gabrielle, whose wounds were slowly extracting the knives from her back. "You were the only one like yourself in the world. Ares used that to his advantage. You cannot trust him Demetri. He is called the god of war in my lands. He has sent thousands to their deaths. And he is obsessed with three things: power, me and anyone that I love." She gently raised the wineskin to Gabrielle's lips. "You tried to warn us about what was happening to her. I didn't want to listen. See this as repaying that favor. Besides, I'm going to need your help. You are the only one who can teach her about her powers."
"I don't think she wants anything to do with me. Not that I can blame her. She hates me more than she does Ares."
"You know, Ares isn't your only relative. You have an aunt. She is called the goddess of Love in Greece. Her name is Aphrodite. And Gabrielle loves her. They are good friends."
As on cue, the goddess sparkled and shimmered into view. She bent down towards the young man. "Hiya Bucc Junior. I'm going to take good care of you now. You won't have to worry about Ares." She looked over at Xena. "How is she?"
"She has seen better days."
Demteri spoke up. "Just be sure to lay her on her stomach, that way her body can remove those projectiles. She lost a lot more blood than me."
Xena looked at the young vampire with sincerity in her eyes. "Thank you."
"No, thank you Xena. I will make the most of this chance. Maybe one day…that hate will be gone from her eyes."
The goddess spoke up. "I know of several out of the way places where we can rest and Ares has no idea about. Xena, I will take you and Gabrielle to one, while Demteri I will take you to another."
The warrior nodded. In a blaze of shimmering light, they all disappeared.
All their things were seated neatly on the smooth white marble table. The walls, pillars, ceiling and floor were all pure white. In fact, everything was white, expect for the numerous plush chairs which were bright red, and the vases, each one a color of the rainbow. Inside each vase were various types of flowers that lent their perfume to the air of the temple.
Gabrielle rested upon the bed, lying on her side, a silk sheet loosely covering her body. Xena sat on a plush red chair next to the bed, rereading the last note she received from the bard.
After all this time, it is now I leaving for battle and you are the one to be left behind. I am sorry, but I cannot let you interfere. By the time you get this note, this nightmare will be over. Demetri, myself and all our kind will be dead.
Please know, I love you more than anything. If I could change the past, I would. I would have never ask about an inn, I would have gladly slept on the ground for the rest of my life if it meant we would have never step one foot into Ardeal.
The only regret I have is not saying goodbye to you. If I had to look in your eyes and tell you goodbye, I may have lost all the strength to do so.
It is just too hard. I can't be near you without wanting to hurt you. I want ALL of you, and it just can't be. The hunger gnaws at me whenever you are near, it doesn't matter if I had fed or not. The nightmares of what I have done won't go away.
I cannot see myself going through all of eternity like this. I hate drinking blood. I hate hearing people's heartbeat, smelling their scent, and seeing fear in their eyes when they see me.
I love you.
Xena refold the scroll and placed it down on the table beside their bed. She got up and walked around to the other side of the bed. She lifted the sheet and saw that the last two knives had finally come out enough so she could extract them.
Xena shook her head. She hadn't seen Gabrielle's body since she became a vampire. The healing properties were simply amazing. She could see why Demetri would think that they were immortal. Every single scar was gone: the scar from the poison arrow, the scars from various battles, all scars that Gabrielle had collected through the years were gone. And on her back, the dragon tattoo that had become nothing but scar tissue after Akemi's betrayal and a constant source of guilt, now once again beamed proudly, looking brand new and alive with color.
She watched as the last two holes healed themselves. She then lowered the sheet. The warrior knew the physical wounds were nothing compared to the emotional ones that Gabrielle carried. She knew everything there was to know about Gabrielle the warrior-bard. But she knew very little about Gabrielle the bacchai-vampire. But it didn't matter. Lying in the bed was the person she loved. Xena smirked at herself, now if she could only say those thoughts as eloquently as she thought them.
Gabrielle moaned and turned over landing on her back. Her eyes cracked open, and all she saw was white. She could feel silk wrapped upon her body. She smiled as she remembered the mountaintop experience of being carried towards the light after being crucified. But her happiness was short-lived as her senses fully recovered. She knew she was lying down, on something very soft. After taking a breath, Gabrielle picked up Xena's scent and heard her heartbeat. She sighed as she gripped the mattress. She slowly sat up, holding the sheet in front of her.
A small smile pulled at Xena's lips. "Hey."
Gabrielle turned to face the warrior. "Where are we?"
The petite warrior looked around at her surroundings. Seeing all the white marble, she thought of one place, "Where back in Greece aren't we?"
Xena shrugged. "Probably."
"Oh." The room grew silent. Xena went over and sat next to Gabrielle. "We need to talk," she stated directly. "You know you can tell me anything. Whatever you are feeling, whatever you are thinking, I can handle it." She watched as Gabrielle began to pick at the sheet. Xena reached up and tilted Gabrielle's chin forcing the young woman to look at her. Gabrielle winced at the touch and moved her head away. The warrior moved even closer. "They nearly killed you out there."
Gabrielle finally looked up into those blue eyes. "You should have let them." With those words, she got up and went to the door.
Xena's eyes became misty. She blinked back her tears and gathered her resolve. She watched as Gabrielle tried to open the door. "We are locked in here." Xena go up and walked towards Gabrielle. "Aphrodite placed an incantation on this temple. No one gets in or out until I ask her to undo it."
"Then you better call her."
Gabrielle sighed in frustration. She saw their stuff on the table and walked towards it, hoping to find her clothes. The last thing she needed was to be trapped inside a small temple, with Xena and naked. As she dug through the various items, she heard Xena's question. "Why?"
That question caused her to pause in her actions. "The note…"
"That's not good enough!"
"Really? Xena look at me!" Ignoring her hunger, she came face to face with her soul-mate. "Look at my eyes. Touch my skin. See these fangs? I am a monster Xena. You may be fine with the idea of me being like this for all of eternity, but I am not!" She turned to walk away, but Xena grabbed her arm.
Xena lowered her head until she was by Gabrielle's ear, the petite woman's back barely brushing against her. "You are not a monster."
"Is that what you thought as you watch me in the dungeon?"
Xena dropped her hand in surprise. "You knew?"
Gabrielle turned to face the warrior. "Xena, I heard your heart beating during my…session. I sensed you were near the moment you came downstairs. You saw what I did. You saw what I am capable of. You saw what I have become."
"And yet I'm still here."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Why are you still here? The person you are looking for is gone Xena. GONE!" She stood in front of the warrior, her green irises trimmed in yellow. "I'm not her anymore."
"You kept telling me that, hoping that I will listen. But you are wrong Gabrielle. I've seen that side of you before."
A deep chuckle rose from Gabrielle's lips as disbelief filled her voice. "Really, and when was that?"
Xena looked her straight in the eyes. "When you fought to protect the Amazons from Bellephone's men… When you fought Akemi to get me back… When you fought to protect me against the Romans." The warrior watched as Gabrielle turned away from her. She walked up to the young woman. "Gabrielle, you fight to protect others. You are fighting the vampari to protect the villagers." When Gabrielle didn't respond, she continued, "Instead of destroying their bodies with fire, you put them on posts, so that their family members can claim the bodies. They take comfort in knowing that their son, daughter, father, mother will not kill again. If you were the monster that you want me to believe you are you wouldn't do that."
Gabrielle snickered. "So Vlad told you." She watched as Xena nodded. "It doesn't change things Xena. I'm a killer."
"No you're not and you don't have to be, "Xena interrupted, "you can feed off of me."
Unshed tears filled the blonde's eyes. "You don't get it. " She walked up to the warrior. "I HATE this," she stated as she wrapped her arms around herself. "I hate drinking blood. I hate the idea of watching people I care about die. But most of all, I hate me." She turned her back to Xena. "I hate what I did to you…to…" Gabrielle began to cry.
Xena remained silent. She pulled her in and held her close. "Tell me."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, taking comfort in familiarity of the leather. "After I attacked you, I ran off a cliff. I remember the sound of bones cracking, and the pain. Then I hit the water. I must have blacked out. I don't know how long I was in the water or how I made it to the shore. When I came to, there was blood all on my hands. At first I thought it was yours, but then, the scent hit me. It wasn't yours." Gabrielle swallowed hard as a lump formed in her throat. "He couldn't have been no more than 12 summers old Xena." She could still see him-a boy with shoulder length dark brown hair, brown eyes, eyes that had the look of fear in them-a look she had placed there. "He just laid there. I killed him Xena, I killed a child." Gabrielle broke down in sobs, her knees buckling under the emotional weight.
Xena slid down with Gabrielle, holding on to her with all her might. The pair sat there silently. Xena knew that there were no words to ease the emotional storm that held Gabrielle in its grip. All she could offer was a shoulder to cry on and a body to lean upon.
Ever so slowly, violent sobs became gently tears. Xena continue to hold and softly rock the woman in her arms. Gabrielle finally spoke. "It was on that day I swore Demetri would regret turning me. I swore they would all die. It was days later that I accidentally discovered that fire could kill us. A vampire attacked my camp. She had managed to tackle me. The fire was near by, so I picked up one of the logs and hit her in the face. We fought for a few moments more and I saw that she wasn't healing. She managed to get away. I tracked her down and discovered she had led me to Demetri's stronghold. I knew I wasn't ready, so I retreated. I decided to try Greek Fire, since it was so hard to put out. It worked. I've been fighting them ever since."
Xena pulled back and leaned her forehead against Gabrielle. "Listen to me. You are not a monster. What happened was tragic. But I know for a fact, that if you had any choice in the matter, it would have never happened."
Gabrielle pulled back and whispered, "It doesn't change that it happened Xena."
"You're right. Nothing will change that fact. Killing every vampire didn't change that fact. Going on a suicide mission didn't change it either." Xena stood up and offered a hand to Gabrielle. She then walked over to their belongings, and found their sleeping shifts. "I know what monsters are. They take joy in hurting others. They are heartless. You could never be a monster Gabrielle." She handed Gabrielle her shift and watched as Gabrielle changed. "Whenever my past came back to haunt me, you use to remind me that I still had so much good to do. Whenever I gave up on myself, you were there giving me your strength." After she changed her clothing, she walked over to Gabrielle and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close. "I want you to remember that. You have so much good left to do in this world. And on days that isn't enough, and then I want you to lean on me. I will never give up on you Gabrielle." With that, she laid a kiss upon Gabrielle's forehand. "Come, let's get to bed."
"Xena, this isn't a good idea. You take the bed, I';;"
"We need to rest. Come on." She saw the hesitation in Gabrielle's eyes. "You won't hurt me. I know it." She leaned forward and barely brushed her lips against Gabrielle's. She knew Gabrielle could taste her breathe, she knew she affect the vampire, because the feeling was very mutual. She slowly closed the distance between them. Once again, their lips barely brushed against one another. Gabrielle audibly gasped out in both pleasure and pain. The next time, their lips connected more solidly, but still didn't meet in a kiss. Xena finally made the move, and the kiss became real. It was slow, as lips molded against each other, reconnecting the two women over and over again, never truly separating until their lungs demanded air. Xena then took Gabrielle's hand and led her to their bed.
Spooning Gabrielle, Xena lay down and pulled the covers over them. Gabrielle sighed, feeling totally loved and protected in Xena's arms. "Love you."
"Love you too."
Those were the last five words they said to each other before Morpheus took them to the world of dreams.
Gabrielle shook her head in her sleep, caught up in a nightmare. "No, no!" She cried.
Xena woke up, and held the sleeping woman close. She whispered soothing words in her ear. Finally, Gabrielle woke up, breathing hard, her eyes darted around the room.
"It's all right Gabrielle. It was a nightmare."
Gabrielle grew quiet. "A nightmare," she repeated. In the dream, she was back on that very beach. "I wish I could forget," she whispered.
Xena tilted Gabrielle's head around until she could see her eyes. Without a word, she leaned in and kissed her, her tongue demanded entry, and it was given. The kiss became animalistic, as both women tried to swallow the other's breath, giving and demanding more from each other. Hands that once gently held onto the other were now busy removing fabric barriers.
Soon, their bodies were roughly rocking together in a rhythm that only their souls could hear. Xena looked down at her soul-mate. They looked into each other's eyes. "Gabrielle, I love you." She bent down and began nibbling on the bard's ear. "I love all of you."
When Xena moved to her neck, Gabrielle wound her hand through Xena's hair, and held her there. As their bodies moved together, grunts and moans of unrestrained pleasure filled the temple. Nails raked against backs, teeth tugging at lips, tongues waging war with and for each other.
Both women pushed the other towards the point of no return. Xena grabbed Gabrielle by the hair, and pulled her close, her lips touching where Xena's neck and shoulder met. As they reached ecstasy's shore, Gabrielle instinctively sank her fangs into Xena. That action sent Xena over the edge, and she too bit down on Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle's head flew back as she screamed out Xena's name; her body convulsing in pleasure.
Slowly their breathing returned to normal. Xena placed a gentle kiss on Gabrielle's shoulder and then pulled back to look into Gabrielle's eyes.
Gabrielle's eyes were bright green, and full of concern. "I'm sor…" Before she could get the words out, her mouth was being attacked by amorous lips.
Xena kissed Gabrielle deeply, tasting the saltiness and slight metallic flavor of her own blood. She didn't stop both of them needed air, and only then did she slow the kiss down until it was gentle.
Gabrielle smirked. "I forgot what I was going to say."
Xena smiled. "Good." She became serious, as she tucked some hair behind Gabrielle's ear. "I love you. Forever."
"Love you too." Gabrielle reached up and delivered a soft but scorching kiss to her soul-mate. This time, they took their time exploring each other's bodies, every inch received some type of attention. They made love slowly, as they took the time to express their love verbally and physically.
Morning found both of the lying in each other's arms, fully sated and at peace with one another.
After two weeks without a word, Aphrodite became antsy. She could only imagine the worst. After all, Xena hated being in one place too long. There must be a horrible reason why Xena hadn't called her yet to open the temple. Fearing the worst, Aphrodite shimmered her way into her temple.
Xena lowered her chakram. "Hello Aphrodite."
"You're conscious!" She looked over at Gabrielle who was sitting at the table, a quill in her hand. "Sweet Pea!" The goddess rushed over and gave Gabrielle a big hug, almost knocking the woman over. "I'm so glad you two are doing well!"
"Aphrodite, what are you doing here?"
The blonde goddess placed her hands on her hips. "This is MY temple. Just wanted to make sure it was still standing." She looked around. "Besides, I miss you two! The last two times I saw you Gabrielle, you weren't doing so hot. And Ms. Tall-and-Deadly over there was in such a serious funk without you."
She smiled at Xena who returned the smile with a glare.
"We're fine," replied the Bard. "We just decided to stay a few extra days. Not sure I'm ready to face anyone just yet." Wanting to change the subject, she asked "How is it going on your end?"
Aphrodite tilted her head, not sure of Gabrielle's reaction. "He is adjusting. It seems that Ares didn't mention me. Nor did he have any idea how ruthless Ares could be towards anyone. I'm showing him he has other options."
"That's good, because he sure couldn't fight."
Aphrodite giggled. "I'm glad you're not holding it against me. I want to see my nephew to have at least one shot of getting his life on track."
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. "We all know how Ares is. He hits a person when they are at their weakest."
Xena continued. "Ares was the only family Demetri knew after his mother died, the only connection to his dad. Being Bacchus' son, he thought he was the only one left. Then Ares told him there was another, and filled his head with dreams."
"Besides Aphrodite, if we were going to hold you responsible for your relatives, we would have never become friends." Gabrielle smiled at the goddess.
Aphrodite nodded, thinking of all the trouble that Ares, the other Olynpians and even her grandson Bliss had caused in the past. "Well you two, I'm going to go ahead and take the incantation off. See ya around!" The goddess snapped her fingers, waved tootles, and disappeared in rainbow glitter.
Xena woke up and stretched. Gabrielle was already up, sitting on a fallen log, watching the sun as it rose above the horizon.
Gabrielle wore her old halter-top brown leathers. From this position, Xena could see the Green Dragon tattoo. It seems ready to battle once again. Xena got up and walked over to the warrior-bard, gingerly touching the tattoo. "Changing your leathers again?"
"It is a woman's prerogative to change her mind. Besides might as well show off the one good thing from Demetri's bite. It seems that all my physical scars have gone away."
Xena could feel heat coming from the blessed tattoo. "Does it hurt?"
Gabrielle thought about the question. She answered truthfully, with a smile, "It is getting better."
Xena didn't know whether she was talking about the tattoo or about herself. She wrapped her arms around the young vampire, and held her close, Gabrielle's head upon her chest. "You know, we have come full circle. There was a time when everything hurt. I wanted to die. I had caused so much pain and destruction. I was called the Destroyer of Nations, but all I managed to do was destroy myself. I buried my weapons and armor, and I was going to end it all. Then a chatty but brave young girl stood up to slavers. I watched as she offered herself in order to protect the others. I knew I had one more battle to fight. I won the fight, but lost my heart that day."
She tilted Gabrielle's head up to look into the golden-green eyes. "I managed to save that chatty young girl, and over the years, I watched as she became a capable and beautiful young woman and warrior. And now, she is almost immortal." She took a deep breath. "You are the greatest gift ever given to me. No matter what, I love you. You are still you: Gabrielle, the warrior-bard of Poteidea and Queen of the Amazon Nation. And I will always be: Xena, the warrior Princess and the Queen's Champion. I leaned on you, you lean on me. And now, you are stuck with me forever."
Gabrielle smirked. She shook her head at the amazing words that flowed from Xena's lips. She answered the best ay she knew how… "Stuck with you, stuck on you, it doesn't matter at long as we are together."
Demetri looked down at his latest journal. He smiled as he began to type the final paragraph.
Yes, things could have been very different…
A knock came from the door. Demetri recognized the beat. "Come in Tony."
A tall young man who looked at of 20 came through the door. With shoulder length auburn hair and hazel eyes that smiled, he was a very handsome young lad. "Mother wanted to know what you want to drink: A, O, B, or AB."
Demetri smiled. "Tell her to surprise me. Just don't forget to mix it with some wine."
"Okay. See you at din-din."
The vampire waited until his son had left before returning to his journal. Once again, his eyes returned to the computer screen:
Thankfully Gabrielle and Xena did things their way. Now, I have a family, responsibilities and stresses. I wouldn't want it any other way. If things didn't happen exactly as they should, I would have never had a family. I had so much growing up to do. I'm glad Xena gave me that chance. I'm glad Gabrielle didn't accept the gift as eagerly as I had hoped she would.
Well, got to run. Aphrodite will be over for dinner tonight. Got to make sure no one switches glasses on her like they did last time.
THE END (maybe…)
Return to the Academy