Copyright: Yes, I do not own the Xena concept and certain characters but the plot is all mine.
Violence: There is violence.
Subtext: I really dislike this disclaimer.
WARNING: These chapters contain forms of torture and punishment. Be very leery of it as I try not to make it overly graphic yet the mind can easily imagine it.
Feedback: I love it because it is so rare these days. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Started: September 23, 2006
Other Fanfictions Story Number: 66
Stranger in a Strange Time
by Red Hope
Chapter 5 – Introductions... Again
Gabrielle remained transfixed by the hooded stranger poised at the top of the steps. Her next words though were directed at Perdicus. "She has quite the mouth."
Janice's heaving chest was slowing some. She knew it was a joke, which made her grin. Yet she kept staring at her great ancestor that remained lying back and relaxed on a lounge chair, a scroll and quill in her lap, and spread out over the floor were plenty of other scrolls.
Gabrielle turned her head up to Perdicus. "Did you pick her up at a bar?"
Perdicus couldn't help a quiet laugh as his warm brown eyes switched to Janice. "Not quite." His right hand rested on his sword hilt casually.
Gabrielle returned her attention to the quiet stranger. "And who are you, may I ask?"
The archeologist planned on the shock factor first as she reached up, pulled her hood back, and introduced, "The name's Janice."
Gabrielle's hand that'd been holding her scroll and quill in her lap faltered and the scroll with quill slipped. There was a quiet yet resounding clunk when the scroll met the wood floor. "The gods be damned…" she exhaled in her last surprised breath.
Janice's amused smile appeared on her features. "It seems the mouth runs in the family."
Perdicus was doing his best not to laugh, his teeth holding onto his lower lip.
Gabrielle was still in bewilderment; her green eyes mixed with interest, confusion, and even fear.
However at that point, Melpomene decided to maker herself quite known so she bounced up to Gabrielle with a beautiful smile on her face. "Hi, I'm Melpomene. Are you Gabrielle? The rebel leader?"
Gabrielle's forest green eyes lowered to the child and her smile couldn't refuse the girl. "Hi, Melpomene." She touched the girl's messy hair and tried to straighten it out a little while saying, "And yes, I'm Gabrielle."
When Gabrielle's hand left Melpomene's hair, she started to rock on her feet. "I saw you in the square that day… a moon ago."
Gabrielle's features saddened at the girl's confession. "That's not a safe place for you, Melpomene."
"I had to go," debated the girl, "because I heard so many stories about you. I wanted to see the famous Gabrielle." She leaned in closer and quietly asked, "Were you scared… to face the Conqueror?"
Gabrielle also leaned in just to go along with the child. Her whispered response was, "I was but you know what?"
"Despite how scared I was… I also had faith I'd be okay."
"How did you know?" murmured the girl.
Gabrielle touched her chest, just over her heart. "I knew in here because not even the Conqueror can steal away my faith."
Melpomene had a bright smile at the woman's wisdom. "You were brave," she spoke louder while straightening up. "Janice is just as brave. She stood up against three soldiers to save me."
Janice remained in her same spot; she studied the inquiring green eyes that flickered up to her for a heartbeat.
"She then spoke out to the people to attack ten other soldiers." Melpomene glanced at Perdicus then back at Gabrielle. "That's how we met Perdicus."
Gabrielle now was able to piece some of the day's events together. It still however didn't explain this stranger's mirror image.
"Are you and Janice going to stop the Conqueror together?" Melpomene put her hands behind her back then rocked on her feet again.
Gabrielle read that the child had every hope in the fact that her and this Janice would challenge the Conqueror together. The faith that Melpomene harbored was rather contagious too. "I think so, Melpomene." Now her gaze rose up to this unusual stranger that felt awkwardly familiar to her.
Perdicus cleared his throat to attract Gabrielle's attention. "I think I will go downstairs to see how Cyrene is." He stepped up near the child and Gabrielle. "Did you want to come down, Melpomene?" His head was bent down.
Melpomene quickly shook her head then firmly stated, "I want to stay with Janice."
Perdicus was grinning and it went wider at Janice. "Well, I'll be downstairs if anybody needs anything." With that, he floated down the steps and saw to Cyrene.
Gabrielle brushed back her bangs then with her arms she pushed herself up better in the lounge chair. She signaled to the other lounge chair and offered, "Please sit, Janice. I think we have… a lot to talk about."
The archeologist dipped her head in agreement then took the lounge chair yet she made sure her boots never touched the end of the chair. She wasn't about to dirty the warm, soft chair. "Mel, you want to sit with me?"
Melpomene quickly agreed by crawling up into the lounge chair then wiggling into a comfortable spot between the arm and Janice.
"Okay?" gently probed the archeologist to the child.
Melpomene's response was a content smile then she rested her head against Janice's chest.
Gabrielle cleared her throat then leaned forward to play with her skirt because she was uneasy about this situation. "I'm not sure where we should start."
Janice tilted her head as grin formed. "The start is usual the best."
Gabrielle couldn't agree any better so she waited for that start from Janice.
"I just wish I knew where the start is," muttered Janice, who grunted at her own words. "This won't be easy to explain… or even believe."
Gabrielle swallowed yet she slowly nodded. "I have seen many things in my lifetime. And it seems I still have yet to see many more."
Janice was already enjoying this conversation. "We'll start with how I am… well look just like you."
Gabrielle quietly chuckled while adding, "And sound."
"And sound," agreed the archeologist. "I'm actually…" She faltered and rubbed her neck, which caused her to glimpse down at Melpomene. She noticed how the girl was very tuned in and her eyes filled with reverence for Janice. Janice dropped her hand to her lap and quickly finished what she started to say. "I'm from the future and I'm your descendant."
Gabrielle inhale deeply and held it for some heartbeats. She gradually released it in a decrescendo of whirling emotions. "Well… that wasn't… what I expected but I think I can handle it."
The archeologist quietly laughed and despite her past assumptions about her ancestors, she was beginning to reevaluate.
"If you're from the… future," tried Gabrielle, "How did you end up here?"
"That's the interesting part." Janice swept her fingers through her short, blond hair then proceeded to answer. "I'm sure you know Alti?"
Gabrielle's green eyes went three shades dark into a cold hunter. "The Conqueror's shaman… I know of her. I take it she somehow brought you here."
"Yes, with the Conqueror's scepter."
Gabrielle pondered what scepter Janice spoke of then it occurred to her. "I have seen that scepter." Her hazy green eyes centered on Janice again. "When I stood up against the Conqueror… it was positioned beside her thrown. I didn't realize somebody could time travel with it."
"I don't think anybody knows of it… except for Alti."
"So it would seem as the Conqueror would utilize such a power if she knew she had it."
Janice ran her tongue along her back molars then she humorously stated, "And it's sitting right under her nose."
Gabrielle briefly smirked yet she lost it as her earlier wondering thoughts returned to her. "I thought maybe you were an Amazon." She indicted Janice's garb.
"No, I'm definitely not." Janice studied her leathers that showed now that her cloak had fallen off to the sides. "After Alti kidnapped me, she dumped me in the Amazon Nation."
Gabrielle's expression filled with understanding. "I'm surprised they took you in." She shifted in her chair from being a little uncomfortable. "They're known for being selective and secretive."
"Really?" The archeologist was remotely taken aback. "They were great hosts to me."
Gabrielle slightly nodded then explained, "They were once a great race, more superior than many until they faced the Conqueror and Alti. Since the last great battle between the Amazons and the Conqueror they've pretty much disappeared… they're almost a myth now."
Despair filled Janice at hearing her ancestor's words.
"Who is their queen now?"
"Cyane," answered Janice, her interest peaked when Gabrielle had a shadowy grin.
"I didn't think Queen Cyane was still alive. She was one of the Conqueror's greatest adversaries."
Janice huffed at this then remarked, "Now you are."
Gabrielle sighed heavily while lowering her gaze to the floor. "I wouldn't say I'm the greatest." Her head lifted again. "I am an adversary though."
"From what I hear," disputed Janice, "you're already a legend."
"To be a legend requires doing something great, which I never have… I've only spoken out."
The archeologist's eyes were light from enjoyment of this debate. "And yet nobody else in this godforsaken world would even dare think about speaking out much less do it."
Gabrielle wasn't pleased with Janice's assessment but she had no other arguments either.
"How did you get off that damn cross anyway?" brought up Janice.
Melpomene shifted when she heard Janice ask the question that was on everybody's lips.
Gabrielle's attitude shifted into something more pleasing. "I am no fool. I knew what the costs would be for speaking out against the Conqueror."
The archeologist had slit eyes but her lips curled into a fine grin. "You planned on her sentencing you to the cross. You knew somebody on the inside."
Very slowly Gabrielle nodded. "However I wasn't expecting to have my legs shattered." Her eyes lowered to her legs, to where her skirt stopped just above her mid thighs. "This," gesturing with her hand, "was a minor setback."
Janice still gazed at the bruised and somewhat red legs. "Are you healing okay?"
While shaking and sighing at once, Gabrielle replied, "The healer has told me I will always walk with a limp." She swallowed against the old, stinging emotions from when the healer had told her of the news. She vowed to not let it steer her from her mission or even slow her down.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," comforted the archeologist.
Gabrielle pulled back her emotions then shook her head. "No, I am happy because I am still breathing." She paused then her convicting voice vowed, "So long as I am breathing I will fight the Conqueror."
"Do you have plans to stop the Conqueror?" urged Janice.
Gabrielle, the famous rebel to all, had a heartbreaking expression. "I've been making plans since she destroyed my village. I'm constantly battling her." She directed with her hand to the scrolls on the floor. "These scrolls are my words against the Conqueror."
Janice gazed down at them yet she couldn't read any of the syntax. "What are they about?"
Gabrielle was about to respond but she didn't when she saw Cyrene at the top of the stairs.
"I thought maybe you both would like some tea," offered Cyrene. She first offered a pottery mug to Gabrielle then came to Janice.
The archeologist blinked but accepted the tea. If Cyrene was at all shocked by her resemblance to Gabrielle, she said nothing about it or showed it.
"Cyrene, this is Janice."
Cyrene warmly smiled at the archeologist. "It's nice to meet you, Janice."
Janice mirrored the smile back as she cupped the warm mug. "You as well, Cyrene."
Cyrene lowered her gaze to the child snuggled between Janice and the chair.
Melpomene instantly knew as she beamed a smile. "I'm Melpomene."
Cyrene chuckled as her smile transformed into a grin. "It's nice to meet you too, Melpomene. Would you like anything to eat or drink?"
The girl honestly considered it then shook her head. "Maybe later… if that's okay?"
"Of course." Cyrene straightened up while brushing back her salt and pepper hair that'd fallen forward. "Just give a yell if you ladies need anything else." With that, she went back to the stairs and disappeared down them.
Gabrielle sipped on her tea but her features were amusing at seeing how Janice stared at Cyrene's vanishing form. She lowered the mug to her lap and warmly teased, "She's seen it all in her day."
The archeologist broke from her staring and shot a grin at her ancestor. "I've noticed." She took a sip of her warm tea and was amazed at how nice it was. The warm liquid flowed down her throat and heated her belly. "So you were telling me about your scrolls?"
Gabrielle had taken another sip of her tea but she nodded. After she swallowed the flavorful tea, she explained her scrolls to Janice. "Many of the scrolls are the reforms that Conqueror needs to make. Others are about her conquest for Greece… the tales about her exploits. Then I scribe opinions about her new laws. I've even done a few comical plays about her, which I know is her least favorite."
Janice quietly laughed between what Gabrielle told her and that grin on her ancestor's face.
"Then there is the poetry I compose to give the people faith and hope." Gabrielle tilted her head as she considered what else she'd written over time. "I even write true stories about the Conqueror's childhood."
The archeologist was puzzled by this. "Why?"
Gabrielle inspected her mug's contents but she grinned up at Janice. "The people believed that the Conqueror was immortal… or a god. They believed her father was Ares himself, which I disproved." She huffed. "On her conquest for Greece she came against her father, who was a warlord."
Janice narrowed her eyes and quietly asked, "What happened?"
Gabrielle played with the half full mug in her hands. "She killed him." Her eyes lifted to Janice. "I wrote the childhood stories to show she is just as mortal as we are."
"How… how did you find out about her childhood?" Janice was absolutely puzzled yet amazed. She lifted her mug to take a drink while her ancestor responded.
Gabrielle smirked. "Cyrene is the Conqueror's mother."
Janice gagged on her warm tea and covered her mouth to keep it in her mouth. She didn't feel like upsetting Melpomene with such a mess. She finally worked the warm brew down then removed her hand. "That's her mother?" she loudly shot back.
The bard smiled at her descendant. "Yes." She drank the last of her tea then figured she should explain more. "After the Conqueror attacked my village I had nobody left; my parents were dead and my sister taken into slavery. I survived only because I was chased into my father's barn. I hid there until my hunter left but he made sure to torch the barn in hopes to burn me alive." She faltered and studied her bruised legs for a heartbeat. "By the time I escaped the barn the raid was over, my parents were dead, and my sister gone."
Janice couldn't finish her tea now. She leaned to her right and was able to place the mug on the floor. When she straightened up her ancestor continued her story.
"Everything was gone…." Gabrielle's hallow eyes flickered with images of her childhood. "I wondered the country side and ended up in Amphipolis but I didn't know it at the time that it was the Conqueror's home. I was hungry, wet from recent storms, dirty, and had some burns from the barn fire." She shoved her memories away as her attention focused on Janice again. "I went into the marketplace desperate for food so I tried to steal some flatbread."
Janice clenched her jaw when she heard this. It was an echo of Melpomene's life in many ways. Her chest constricted against her emotions as she listened to the rest.
"The merchant caught me of course but before he could haul me off to the constable Cyrene stepped in. She happened to be there picking up food for her tavern. She paid the merchant double what the flatbread was worth then she took me back with her." Gabrielle finally smiled as fonder memories came to her. "After that she pretty much adopted me as her child."
"How did you both end up here?"
The bard tilted her head then rested it against the back of the chair. "When I grew of age I told Cyrene I wanted to stop the Conqueror… her daughter. We argued for a good moon but she realized she couldn't sway me. She also refused to let me do this alone because she wasn't going to lose another daughter."
Janice had a smile but it was mixed with warmth and sadness. "So you both moved here… to Corinth."
Gabrielle faintly nodded then whispered, "Into the belly of the beast."
Janice quietly grunted at the joke. She glimpsed down at her young friend and saw the she was fast asleep, it made her smile.
"What are your plans, Janice?" Gabrielle lifted her head off the chair and waited.
Slowly amused green eyes rose up to Gabrielle. "I was going to ask you the same thing."
The rebel huffed and stated, "I have been planning most my life how to rid of the Conqueror."
"And have you figured out how to do that?"
"Not all the details," confessed the bard, "however I know the ultimate solution."
Janice's eyes narrowed when she heard Gabrielle's voice chilled for the first time. "What is that?"
"Assassinating the Conqueror."
Gabrielle's words hung in the thick air between the descendant and ancestor for many heartbeats.
Janice exhaled a shaky breath after completely absorbing Gabrielle's desired plan. "Maybe assassination isn't the answer, Gabrielle." Not when I know the Conqueror's descendant like I do, inwardly added Janice.
Gabrielle suddenly bitterly laughed at the archeologist's ridiculous words. "What else could there be?"
"Maybe the Conqueror needs to be reformed."
The rebel quickly leaned forward so that her eyes had Janice locked in place. "Tell me Janice, what tyrants do you know have ever reformed?"
The archeologist's historical mind flipped through every tyrant in history. Finally she came up blank with any such tyrant.
Gabrielle knew she'd won her case so she rested back in her chair. "The only solution for tyrants is death so they can pass into Tartarus."
Janice sighed and ran the facts through her mind. She began speaking while her mind worked this out. "You have to look at it from both sides… think about how big the Conqueror's Realm is? If she is assassinated then who is to take her place?"
The bard didn't like this line of thinking or questioning because a long time ago she'd already resolved to assassinate the ruler.
"The Conqueror brings order to these lands whether or not it's good or bad order. If she is killed then there will be chaos."
"No revolution is complete without chaos, Janice. I rather take my chances as there are none worse than the Conqueror."
Janice closed her eyes at her ancestor's bitter anger for the ruler. She knew Gabrielle had every right and she knew too she'd feel the same way. Yet she knew Melinda and she knew the heart that rested within Melinda. There had to be some remnants of it in the Conqueror too because nobody is ever born that way.
Gabrielle dipped her head and tried to judge why Janice was so upset by this. She quickly calculated all of Janice's factors then it struck her blindly. "You know the Conqueror's descendant."
The archeologist opened her eyes and met Gabrielle's gaze. "Yea… we're friends." She tried to control her surfacing feelings about Melinda. "The same day we met was when Alti showed up." She turned her head and she became dazed by the fire in the fireplace. "Melinda saved my life… protected me."
The rebel now understood why it was so hard for Janice to accept that the Conqueror must be assassinated. Somewhere in Janice's heart she truly believed that some piece that made up Melinda was hidden in the Conqueror. "Janice," she whispered, "the Conqueror and Melinda are two different people."
"Maybe," murmured the archeologist. She rotated her head back. "Maybe not."
Gabrielle ached for her descendant as she wished there was something better than this. "If there was a way to reform the Conqueror… I would take it." She bit her lower lip then gently whispered, "There is no other way."
Janice combed her fingers through her hair in hopes it'd brush away her emotions too. "I know," she half heartedly accepted. She buried her dull ache and reminded herself how this would save so many people. "I think I know how we can assassinate the Conqueror."
Gabrielle straightened up at her descendant's words because it wasn't what she expected. She never dreamed of accomplishing her quest anytime soon but she never strayed from it. 'What do you have in mind, Janice?"
Janice forced her body to relax as she laid out some ideas to her ancestor.
Gabrielle carefully listened to each idea and only made a few suggestions or offered what she could to help. She was amazed as much as concerned about all the variables in the plan but there was no way around it. She could tell that Janice would be determined to see the plans through and not stop until the Conqueror was dead.
"The only thing is for any of this to work, Alti must also be stopped."
The bard nodded at the archeologist's logical conclusion. "Alti protects the Conqueror as much as the Conqueror protects her. You will have to kill them both for this to work." She read Janice's glowing eyes carefully. "Are you sure you can do this, Janice? Can you really assassinate the Conqueror?"
"Yes," vowed Janice, "I don't care what it fuckin' takes. This world cannot keep going like this."
"You could be killed," gently reminded the rebel. "You could play the martyr."
The archeologist shook her head as her teeth gritted against her bubbling emotions. "It’s a small price… nobody would even notice." She grinned at her joke despite her ancestor wasn't but she quickly added, "Besides, the people will only think I am you. If they see you're still alive after then you're a god in their eyes."
"I'm not sure I would like that type of power over the people," confessed the bard.
"Yet you can utilize it," offered Janice, "to bring peace before the chaos begins."
"I'm not a ruler," debated Gabrielle.
"Neither was the Conqueror," reminded the archeologist. She saw her ancestor was about to fight back again so she held up her hand to stop her. "Time will tell… this may not even work right."
"Have faith," warmly offered Gabrielle, "because it comes in many forms."
Janice's gaze lowered to the sleeping bundle pressed against her. "Yes… yes, it does."
"We should get some rest." Gabrielle still cupped her now empty mug.
The archeologist had a coy smile. "I'm actually a little hungry."
The bard pressed her lips tightly together to stop her laughter. She lowered her head and cleared her throat before looking up again. "I'm sure Cyrene can make something." She saw Janice about to make a fuss so she cut her off ahead of time. "Cyrene loves to cook for people."
"She must since she had a tavern." The archeologist peered down at Melpomene.
Gabrielle twisted in her seat and pointed just behind herself. "My bedroom is in there, I have two beds if you want to put her to bed."
"I think I better," agreed the stranger. She carefully maneuvered around until she had the sleeping girl in her arms and she was up on her feet. Janice went into the candlelit room and figured the empty bed must be the one without the scroll satchel on it. She lowered Melpomene onto the bed.
The child stirred awake and was completely confused but she settled when she saw Janice unlacing her worn boots. "Janice?"
The archeologist smiled at the small voice as she glimpsed down at the child's sleepy features. "Come on, time to get some rest." She placed the boots on the floor and said, "Get under the covers, Mel."
The child did as she was told and crawled under them. She then grabbed Janice's hand when she was straightening up. "You're not going to bed too?"
Janice bent back over the girl. "I'm going downstairs to talk to Gabrielle, Perdicus, and Cyrene." She carefully brushed back Melpomene's bangs. "You'll be okay?"
The girl slowly nodded but quietly asked, "Will you stay with me tonight?"
The archeologist's chest shook with a silent laugh. "I will," she promised. "Did you want dinner?"
"No, I'll eat in the morning…?"
"You promise?" Janice gave the girl a very inquisitive look.
"Double promise." Melpomene included a beautiful smile.
"Okay." Janice organized the blankets over the girl. "Go to sleep. I'll be up soon." After her own promise, she went into her full stature and quietly slipped out of the low lit room.
Gabrielle had just gotten up from her chair after organizing her scrolls on the floor. She'd had quite the mess earlier but now they were all piled on top of each other. She picked up her walking stick on the other side of the chair and between her arm muscle and weak leg muscle she was able to stand.
Janice wanted to help so much yet she clenched her hands at her sides to stop her instincts. She knew that her ancestor mostly likely was stubborn like her and would refuse the help. "Does it hurt?"
The bard flashed an assuring smile. "It always will but life goes on." She slowly started for the steps but she offered, "You can go first, Janice… it takes me awhile."
The archeologist shook her head then respectfully held her hand out to the steps. "I have all the time in the world."
The rebel grinned then began the painful descent of the stairs but she made it to the bottom just like every time in the past.
Cyrene dazzled a smile at the pair coming from upstairs. "Care to join us?"
Periducs turned in his seat and smiled at seeing the two blond beauties approaching them in the dinning area. He got up and pulled out a seat for Gabrielle when she was close enough.
"Come sit, Janice." Cyrene patted the chair on her side of the rectangular table.
"Thank you," answered the archeologist as she took her seat.
Cyrene's eyes went to slits. "What happened here?" She touched the archeologist's cheek that had a blood stain and a cut.
"Ah sorry." Janice tried to wipe the dried blood away, which only caused the wound to reopen. "I got it when I was fighting that soldier."
Cyrene let out a huge sigh then sprung up from her chair. "Stop touching it." She walked into the kitchen to retrieve a wet cloth for cleaning. When she returned, she loomed of Janice with her left hand tilting Janice's head back.
Janice remained still as Cyrene fussed over cleaning the wound. Her eyes flickered over to Gabrielle with a plea for help.
The bard shrugged then teased, "Don't fight her, Janice… she'll win."
"Must run in the family." The words rolled out of Janice's mouth before she could stop them. She just wanted to hit herself at that point, her shoulders slumped and her eyes closed.
Perdicus tensed at Janice's remark.
Cyrene hesitated but she continued her administration of the wound.
Janice finally cracked her eyes open some only to be regarded by very soft blue eyes. She was momentarily lost in them but she whispered, "I'm sor-"
"No," murmured back Cyrene, "there's no reason to be sorry." She pulled back with her rag hand lowering to her side. "I'm rather proud that I'm so stubborn… it's what's kept us alive." With that, she was gone.
Janice watched Cyrene go into the kitchen again. She wondered who Cyrene was referring to when she said us. She broke away from her thinking when Gabrielle spoke.
"I'm already on it, sweetie." Cyrene held up her frying pan with a wide grin.
The bard laughed and teased, "Am I that easy to read?" She hesitated then joked, "Don't answer that."
Cyrene chuckled then busied herself with getting some meals prepared for the young group.
"Perdicus," Gabrielle saw him look at her, "Janice is my descendant."
Perdicus was clearly bewildered as he glanced between Gabrielle and Janice for further help.
Finally Janice blurted out, "I'm from the damn future, man."
Perdicus open his mouth, closed it, and opened it again then sputtered, "How?"
Janice smirked as her husky voice teased, "Well you see there's this thing in nature called conception and what happens is-"
"Alti," cut in the bard, "she brought Janice here." Her voice held a note of tolerance for Janice's smart answer yet she couldn't refuse her own grin.
Perdicus rotated his head back to Gabrielle after forcing himself from staring at Janice. "She must have some plan if she brought Janice here."
"She does," informed the archeologist and when she saw both curious features turned at her, she decided to explain. "Alti's hope is that I'll face the Conqueror and if I do then most likely the Conqueror will kill me." She waited a beat, shrugged then mildly stated, "Alti wants my karma."
"You mean our karma," corrected the rebel leader.
The stranger huffed and nodded. "Pretty much."
"Why?" charged on the bard.
Janice quickly realized some of the mistake she made in telling her ancestor about Alti's motives. She her mind quickly worked out a truthful but not complete explanation. "Our karma is from the Light… we're self sacrificing."
"That makes sense but Alti feeds off of weak souls and certain emotions," debated Perdicus.
The archeologist smirked at the man then torment, "Smart boy, Perdy but you forget that Alti also feeds off of souls from the Dark and Light. She'll take anything she can get."
"The Conqueror is a Dark soul," tried Gabrielle, "and I'm from the Light." She shook her head then asked, "Wouldn't she fear me?"
"She does," agreed Janice, "She fears that you could undermine the Conqueror."
Gabrielle quickly turned to Perdicus. "Alti set me up I bet."
"What do you mean?" queried Janice.
"People that are sentenced to the cross never have their legs shattered," informed Perdicus. "The sentence also has never been carried out immediately in public."
"That's out of character for the Conqueror," further explained Gabrielle. "It was my hope to make it to the dungeons before my sentence was carried out."
"So you could escape," clarified the archeologist.
"Yes," started Gabrielle, "I know some people that work the dungeons."
Janice narrowed her eyes. "How?"
"Its amazing what bribery can do," joked the rebel leader.
The archeologist grunted and peered up when Cyrene came over with plates of foods. Her plate was absolutely full and had the most delicious smell ever. Her stomach answered the call of food with a loud rumble.
Perdicus smirked. "Well the appetite runs in the family."
Cyrene came back from the kitchen again but with her plate and Perdicus's. She maneuvered into her chair beside Janice then stated, "The Conqueror will be even more out of character once she hears of Janice."
"She won't hear," argued Gabrielle.
Cyrene picked up her fork yet hesitated and eyed her adopted child. "You know, as well as I do, that the Conqueror has eyes and ears everywhere." She leaned forward then whispered, "Even in our own walls."
The bard dipped her head down because she knew Cyrene was right. "Let her try, Cyrene."
Cyrene exhaled deeply then decided not to argue anymore so that it wouldn't spoil dinner. She began eating along with everybody else. "So what are the plans?" she brought up.
Descendant and ancestor exchanged worried features about whether to tell the Conqueror's mother. This wasn't easy and Gabrielle hadn't truly considered Cyrene's reactions to such a proposal as she'd never mentioned it in the past. Gabrielle knew it was up to her to explain it since Cyrene was very much her mother.
"We plan to assassinate the Conqueror."
Perdicus stopped eating, his hooded eyes on Cyrene.
Cyrene's fork stopped from pushing the feta and olives around then started it again. "When?" she murmured softly. Her grey-blue eyes finally rose up to Gabrielle.
"As soon as we can," admitted the bard. "Cyrene, I-"
"No," stopped the Conqueror's mother, "I can longer watch my child destroy so many lives." She swallowed hard while her eyes burned from rising emotions. "How will you do this?"
"First we need to talk to the council and have them agree."
Cyrene mutely nodded.
"If you get the council's agreement, then what?" persisted Perdicus.
Gabrielle reeled into an explanation of her rough plans. Janice silently listened despite she had a few extra ideas in mind too. This would not be easy on any level, especially emotional and certainly most taxing on Janice and Cyrene. Finally the talk about the plans slowed down then Gabrielle explained some of her rebel faction to Janice, which greatly interested the archeologist.
"Each head council member has a personal guard," clarified Gabrielle, "and Perdicus is mine."
"Then who's is Cyrene?"
Gabrielle pushed her empty plate away and picked up the clay mug of water that Cyrene had gotten her earlier. "Another young man by the name of Joxer."
Janice's eyes widened at this news. "Is he about Perdicus's height, short black hair, beady black eyes, and acts like bumbling idiot?"
The rebel leader tilted her head. "Yes to everything but the bumbling. He's quite an excellent fighter."
The archeologist was completely in doubt about something like that.
"Many of the guards are from the Conqueror's army. Like Perdicus, he was forced into the Conqueror's army when they came to Potidaea. He had to serve a minimum of twenty seasons before he was released," explained Gabrielle.
"You two have known each other since childhood?" inquired Janice.
Perdicus nodded his head slowly. "Gabrielle and I are childhood friends." He glimpsed at the bard then back at Janice. "Her parents had betrothed us at a young age."
Janice was almost positive her jaw hit her lap. Now the tidbit she'd read in one of Gabrielle's scrolls made sense about Gabrielle's husband being killed by Callisto. She knew Perdicus's name was familiar but it'd never made sense until now. "Why aren't you two married?" she popped out before it was too late.
Perdicus saw how Gabrielle hung her head and stared at her empty plate. He had to answer for them both. "Things change, Janice… a lot."
The archeologist went silent now that she brought up plenty of old wounds tonight.
Cyrene easily broke up the uneasy silence by saying, "We should get some rest." She turned her attention to Perdicus. "Why don't you stay here tonight…?"
"If that's okay?"
Gabrielle patted her friend's knee under the table. "I think it's safest… especially with Janice and Melpomene here."
The young man conceded with an agreeing head. He then stood and collected the empty plates around the table.
The bard gazed at her descendant. "You'll stay up in my room tonight?"
Janice softly smiled at the invite. "Yes, thank you."
The rebel reflected the smile back then gazed back at Cyrene. "Will you be up early tomorrow?"
"Now Gabrielle," Cyrene laughed.
"I know, silly question."
"What do you need, sweetie?" Cyrene leaned back in her chair and briefly watched Perdicus sit back down with them.
"I'll need a message delivered to the council members."
Cyrene quickly nodded. "I'll take care of it."
"Great." Gabrielle now rested back in her chair, her hands folded on her full stomach. "I'll write it tonight and leave it down here for you."
Cyrene merely nodded, her thoughts wondering off to the future.
Gabrielle stifled a yawn.
"Come on." Janice was in agreement about rest since it'd been a busy, long day for her. She got up just as Gabrielle did the same.
"Do you need help, Gabrielle?" politely offered Perdicus.
The rebel leader was a few steps away, towards the steps. She simply threw him a look for her answer then proceeded to the steps.
Perdicus, the guard, shrugged and gazed back at Cyrene.
Cyrene chuckled and teased, "She has my stubborn streak."
"Cyrene, I'm afraid to tell you but she's had that long before you."
"I heard that," called an annoyed voice from part of the way up the stairs.
"I resent that too," hollered the descendant.
The older woman softly chuckled at the pair. "I believe you're right." She got up and said, "I think I'll prepare for bed."
Perdicus only nodded as he understood what Cyrene was saying to him. He waited there at the table to let Cyrene to some private time.
Gabrielle took a seat at the foot of her lounge chair. "Janice, can you get my scroll satchel from the bedroom? I'm worried I'll be too loud." She indicated her walking stick in her right hand.
The archeologist said nothing yet slipped away into the low lit room. She made out the outline of the satchel bag and silently lifted it. She glanced over at Melpomene and saw she was contently asleep.
The rebel leader smiled a thank you when she had her satchel. She rested it up on the lounge chair and dug through it. She discovered a blank scroll and she picked up her quill from the stack of scrolls on the floor. After unrolling the scroll in her lap, she slowly composed a message to the council members.
Janice meanwhile gathered her ancestor's scrolls on the floor and despite she was curious to read them, she knew she couldn't without Melinda's help. Instead she neatly tucked them inside of the scroll satchel.
"Thank you," murmured the bard between her writing.
Janice scooted the satchel out of the way then sat beside her ancestor. She studied the neatly written words on Gabrielle's scroll but she couldn't make sense of the syntax. With frustration she sighed and stared down at her lap to wait for Gabrielle to finish.
The bard paused and glimpsed at her descendant's frustrated features. "What is it?"
The archeologist stopped grinding her teeth for a moment to actually respond. "I can't read what you're writing."
The dumbfounded bard stared at her descendant as if she was waiting for a laugh for a joke. "You're serious?"
Janice pulled her head away from Gabrielle's surprised gaze. "My friend… Xena's descendant she can read Greek syntax but I can only pick out pieces."
"You cannot read any of this?" tried Gabrielle as she tilted the scroll to the archeologist.
The stranger's eyes squinted as she glazed over the unfamiliar language then she paused and pointed at one word. "I know that says sheep." She then furrowed her eyebrows as she considered why her ancestor was writing about sheep.
Gabrielle sensed the stranger's puzzlement so the slightly smiled. "I write in code whenever I send out messages to the council or other members. I don't need the Conqueror discovering my plans."
Janice was clearly impressed. "Has the Conqueror ever broken your code?"
"Not to my knowledge," breathed out Gabrielle, "however I try to change it some each moon." She lowered the scroll back into her lap. "The council members are required to memorize the code and code changes each moon then the code decipher is burned."
"Wow," murmured the archeologist. "How can you trust that they do this?"
"The code is changed during our meetings. They memorize it then I burn it myself," informed the rebel leader. "I trust my council members but I do it in front of them so that nobody will ever have room to question motives."
Janice knew she'd never given her ancestor any credit however she was rethinking her judgments of her ancestor.
Gabrielle returned to scribing but she quietly asked, "If you cannot write Greek what do you write?"
"English," answered the archeologist yet she knew Gabrielle would be confused easily. "It’s derived from the Germanic language… the people north of the Rhine in the Norselands. Latin also influenced it greatly."
Gabrielle stopped writing, lowered her quill, and lifted her head to Janice. "Do you only speak English then?"
"Yes, but…." Janice's brow was tightly woven and she was mystified. "Am I speaking Greek?"
The rebel leader opened her mouth to reply with explanation yet she had none.
The archeologist laughed and played with her short hair. "This is really... really fuckin' weird."
Gabrielle chuckled and switched back to her scroll to finish it.
"I'm just not going to even ask," muttered the archeologist while she patiently waited for her ancestor to finish her message. She then noted Gabrielle had finished so she offered, "I can take it downstairs."
The bard had finished rolling it up then tying the thong in place. "I can get-"
"You see, Gabrielle through the generations the stubbornness has gotten stronger." Janice yanked the scroll from her ancestor and popped up. "So has the temper," she muttered and went for the steps.
The bard was shaking her head but she had a smile. She picked up her scroll satchel then slowly rose up to her painful, hunched stance. She made the slow journey into the bedroom, sat on her bed after lowering her satchel to the floor, and she bent down to work at her boots.
The archeologist slipped into the room and saw that Gabrielle was preparing for bed.
"Do you want a sleeping shift?" whispered Gabrielle.
Janice shook her head. "No, I don't want to dirty up something clean." She grinned then added, "Besides I'm use to sleeping in my clothes." She reached up to her neck to work on the feather clasp that held her cloak around her.
"You can take a bath tomorrow," softly offered the bard. She got up and went to the small dresser near the foot of her bed. She collected a nightshift from the top drawer then slowly maneuvered her clothes off and her shift over her body.
Janice sighed at the thought of a warm bath plus it'd probably be good for Melpomene too. As she thought more about it, it wouldn't be bad to get the child new clothes in the market tomorrow before the bath. After a minute or two though, Janice had her cloak removed, her sword in scarab off, and her boots off too. She left those items on the floor near the end of the bed, slightly tucked under so nobody would trip on them but she made sure to free her gun. Finally, Janice came to the head of the bed, placed her gun on the nightstand between the two beds, and easily crawled in behind the girl.
The rebel leader made her limping way to the bed and sat on it, propped her walking stick against the nightstand, and pulled the sheets back to get in too.
Melpomene stirred some yet she settled down again when larger, stronger arms pulled her in against a warm body. She slipped back into a much sweeter dreamscape than she often had in the past.
Janice didn't know why she'd done it but it'd felt so natural to place a tender kiss to the girl's head. She forced her mind to relax much like she always did when she went to bed. If her mind went over the day's events, the past, or anything in the future then she'd lay awake all night. Her thoughts slowed then cut off and finally she discovered a peaceful sleep.
Gabrielle's eyelids were heavy yet she kept staring at the two strangers in the other bed. She was still absorbing all that'd happened today and it was a lot to grasp. She did have a new sense of hope and that deep determination returned to her that'd been originally shattered by the Conqueror a moon ago. The Fates had brought Janice to her, not Alti, and she knew this would forever change her.
Chapter 6 – Preparations
Janice woke up with a startle but her rapid heartbeat eased again when she recalled where she was now. Her eyes adjusted and she finally took in the simply bedroom thanks to the light streaming through the window from the opposite side. Melpomene was no longer wrapped in her arms and Gabrielle wasn't in her bed on the other side.
The archeologist stretched then rolled her body out of bed. She put on her boots first but it seemed like a long process since she had to yawn in between it. She strapped her gun back into its home on her right boot then she put the sword in scarab on her back. Janice straightened out the bed quickly but left her cloak on the foot deciding she wouldn't need it right now.
Gabrielle heard the footfall descending the stairs so she directed her smile at the sleepy form of her descendant. "How'd you sleep?"
The stranger let out a grumble of complaint, came to the table, and flopped in the empty chair by her ancestor.
The rebel smirked and patted Janice's closest knee. "That well huh?"
"The damn beds are so hard," whined the archeologist.
Gabrielle stared at her then stated, "Our beds are relatively soft compared to some."
The archeologist opened her mouth to refute it but she decided it just wasn't worth arguing about this morning. Instead she turned her head to the bright face of a young girl. "Good morning, Mel."
"Hi, Janice," greeted the chipper girl. "I slept really well."
The archeologist grunted, stifled a yawn, and then remarked, "That's because you were sleeping on me."
Gabrielle had a wide grin then teased, "That was nice of you."
Janice's tongue ticked one of her back molars.
The bard knew it was best to change topics and hastily at that. She wasn't a much better morning person. "Cyrene is making breakfast already."
Janice gazed into the kitchen and saw indeed that the woman was doing just that. "I have fabulous timing," she muttered.
It wasn't long before the group was happily eating a wonderful, light breakfast. Cyrene joined them as well however Perdicus wasn't there as he'd left some time in the early morning just before dawn. At the end of breakfast, Janice informed everybody that she and Melpomene would be taking a walk down to the market to get some items. Gabrielle insisted they wait until a guard arrived to escort them. At first Janice refused but under Gabrielle's formable tongue, she caved in and conceded. After breakfast Janice was leaning against the table, drumming her fingers on the table, listening to Cyrene and Gabrielle talk, and impatiently waiting for this guard to show up.
Cyrene's right hand suddenly shot out across the table and captured Janice's drumming fingers.
Janice jumped at the fast movement and she flushed at Cyrene's obvious annoyance. "Sorry," she mumbled.
Cyrene gave an assuring grin then continued chatting away with Gabrielle.
The archeologist let out a gigantic sigh and this time she was smacked on the knee by Gabrielle. "Jesus Christ!" she bellowed and shot up from the chair in frustration. "I'm gonna get my cloak." She stomped over to the steps but hotly stated, "And if this damn guard isn't here when I come down then I'm going." She loudly proceeded up the steps.
Cyrene carefully watched the strange then she grinned at Gabrielle. "She's your descendant huh?"
"I'm starting to wonder too," joked the bard, who was still absorbing that idea anyway. "So he was confident that everybody would show this afternoon for the meeting?"
Cyrene first nodded then stated, "He'll deliver the message to everybody then come here around noon high to let you know. Rhodes may not make it though."
"That's understandable," murmured the rebel leader. She peered around when Janice came stomping back down the steps. She shook her head while watching the archeologist swing on her cloak and began clasping it.
"Well it looks like I'm guardless," mentioned the brass archeologist. "Ready to go, Mel?"
The girl smiled happily because she was tired too of listening to the chitchat. She slipped out of the chair.
Cyrene narrowed her eyes at Janice and coldly stated, "Neither of you are leaving until a guard arrives."
Janice stilled in the middle of closing her clasp. She held Cyrene's stoic gaze and she half heartedly smiled while muttering, "I was joking anyway."
Cyrene became smug and returned her attention to Gabrielle yet before she could say what was on her mind, a knock interrupted her. She picked out the unique knock so she rose up and went to the door.
"Good morning, Cyrene." The young man dipped his head in respect then slipped into the warm house.
"How are you this morning, Joxer?"
Janice's head shot up just when she finished with her clasp. She stared at the spitting image of Jack Kleinman but he actually seemed a bit more handsome. Jack's ancestor also had a rougher and worn appearance about him with a scar down the right side of his temple that trailed to his right cheek. He wore a pair of light brown leather pants, a loose white shirt, and a black cloak to keep him warm. Then poking through at his right hip was the hilt of his sword.
Joxer smiled as he turned his attention to Gabrielle. "Good morning, G... a… b…." His eyebrows knitted together and he stared, mystified by the woman behind Gabrielle.
The bard thoroughly enjoyed Joxer's confusion, which made her chuckle. She cleared her throat then said, "Joxer, this is my descendant." Her tone was highly amused now but she finished her introduction. "This is Janice."
The archeologist glowered at her ancestor, who was getting too much pleasure from this.
Joxer remained still and even more bewildered as his eyes flickered between Gabrielle and Janice as if evaluating how similar they truly were. He half expected it to be a joke and that Janice would rip off a mask.
"Sit down, Joxer… I'll explain," offered the bard.
Janice rolled her eyes because that meant it'd require another solid thirty minutes before she and Melpomene could leave. She grabbed a chair and tugged Melpomene along with her but she hefted the girl into her lap.
Melpomene cuddled right into the welcoming warmth of her friend. She twisted her head up and asked, "Why are we going to the market?"
Janice lifted her right hand and poked the small nose. "To get you some new clothes then when we get back we'll take bathes."
"We'll need you at the meeting today, Janice," mentioned Cyrene, who was sitting beside the stranger.
The archeologist quickly nodded then promise, "We'll be there." She then glanced over at Gabrielle and Joxer. She noted how Joxer would keep looking at her then back at Gabrielle then back at her and then... well it was getting annoying to Janice. She let out a frustrated sigh then hotly announced, "Mel and I are leaving while you two rattle on about me."
Melpomene easily slipped out of Janice's lap and became excited about leaving.
The archeologist started for the door but she hestitated when a presence came up behind her. It made her grin and she opened the door.
"We'll see you this afternoon, Janice," called the rebel leader.
"Yea, yea," mumbled the stranger, and she was gone.
Gabrielle's body shook with a silent laugh while watching Melpomene, Janice, and Joxer leave together. She started shaking her head and lowered her gaze to Cyrene.
Melpomene took on the duty of leading the group to the market since she knew the city so well.
Joxer walked on Janice's left side while Melpomene was on the other side. Joxer adjusted his cloak for no real reason then quietly asked, "So you're really from the future?"
Janice gave a wild grin, reached up, and pulled her hood over her face as they stepped out onto the street from the alleyway. "I sure am."
"Hmmm." Joxer kept turning this over in his head despite he'd heard the story from Gabrielle.
"How long have you known Gabrielle and Cyrene for?" quietly asked the archeologist.
The guard gave an idle shrug then reported, "For more seasons than I care to count."
"You don't sound so happy about that," commented Janice.
Joxer suddenly smiled then replied, "I'm honored to be in the faction." He hesitated as his smile fell from old, hard memories. "This has been a better life than my previous one."
"You were in the Conqueror's army?"
"For twenty seasons," confirmed the guard. "It was through Perdicus that I became apart of the faction."
Janice found this interesting but she couldn't ask more since they were coming upon the market. "Mel, we need to find a shop for clothes that'll fit you. Do you know where to look?"
"Yes, it's this way." Melpomene bounced then tugged her friend along.
Janice yelped as the surprisingly strong child hauled her off to a sharp left.
Joxer was chuckling but he hurried right along.
The archeologist came to a quick stop in front of a clothing stand. She nodded her approval of the garments while the child dove right into them. She folded her arms and carefully watched Melpomene inspected the clothes for something she liked.
Melpomene suddenly called to Janice in an excited voice.
The archeologist had a huge grin as she neared the girl and she bent forward.
"Do you like them?" The girl held them out.
Janice wasn't the best on taste considering she typically wore the same thing day in and day out when on digs. Yet she took in the selected brown skirt and white blouse with a cute dark blue design sewn in it. "I like it." She smiled then asked, "Are there any boots?"
Melpomene lowered her arms with the articles but she peered down at her worn boots. "My boots are fine."
The archeologist chuckled and now squatted down so she had a closer inspection of the boots in question. "I don't think so, Mel." She pointed at the right boot that was developing a small hole. "They're almost shot."
"Leather boots cost a lot," muttered the concerned child.
Janice had a lopsided grin as she played with Melpomene's hair. "And you're priceless." She rose up, held her hand out, and whispered, "Come on."
Melpomene laced her hand into the warmer hand. She was guided to the end of the merchant's stand. There at the corner was a selection of boots. "That's my size." She pointed at the boots near the end of the line.
"You sure?" questioned Janice.
"Positive." Melpomene also bobbed her head for further confirmation.
Janice grinned, picked up the boots, took the clothes from Melpomene, and turned to the merchant.
The merchant had been at the other end of the table but he hurried down at the prospect of customers. "How can I help you… ladies?" He stated after seeing the lean, beautiful form hidden under the cloak.
"How much are these?" Janice signaled to the clothes and boots in her hands.
"Twenty dinars," replied the man.
The archeologist almost blew up right there. "Holy shit, man that is expensive. Try three dinars."
"I mind as well give them to you for free," shot back the merchant.
Janice smirked. "Since you mentioned it."
"Seventeen," snapped the vendor, "nothing less."
"Seven dinars," argued the archeologist. "You'd be lucky to get this junk for five."
"I could get it for at least fifteen," challenged the merchant.
Janice laughed and glanced back at Joxer, "Hey Joxer, wasn't that other merchant selling this same stuff for cheaper on the other street?"
Joxer was mute for a second then he caught on quickly. "Yes, he was offering ten dinars."
The merchant growled in annoyance then hotly stated, "Twelve and that's my final offer."
Janice sighed and acted like she was really weighing this one way or the other.
"Eleven," gave in the vendor.
Janice suddenly smiled and huffed out, "Okay… okay." She handed the items to Melpomene, which freed both her hands. She worked the money out of her small pouch at her side in her cloak. She handed over the money then thanked the grumbling merchant. She then peered down at the girl. "Do you know where we can get a leather bag or pack, Mel?"
Joxer joined the pair and took the items from Melpomene to help her.
"There's a good one this way." Melpomene held out her hand then once she had Janice's hands, she took off.
Janice almost stumbled yet she held tight while being steer through the busy market. Soon Janice had a new well tanned leather pack and she placed Melpomene's items in them. She knew later she'd need the pack for other things to help her out.
After seeing the tanner merchant, Janice knelt down before Melpomene and gently asked, "You remember, Mel you told me about that cave?"
"You mean the one to-"
"Yes, that one," cut off Janice, who was concerned somebody would over hear. "Will you show it to me?"
Joxer was perplexed as he tried to understand what they were whispering. He knew they were suppose to be returning back to Cyrene's home.
"I'll show you," proudly offered the girl.
"Will it take us long?" inquired the archeologist.
Melpomene tapped her chin with her right index finger, her eyes fuzzy for a heartbeat. "Maybe a few candlemarks."
Janice had no clue how long that meant but she really didn't care. She was far too interested by this mysterious cave that Melpomene had discovered. "Take me to it, Mel." She adjusted the pack on her back then stood up.
"Follow me." Melpomene hurried Janice along through the street.
Joxer hesitated then he quickly followed the pair. He noticed they were going in the opposite direction of Cyrene's home, which worried him. He came up to Janice's side and asked, "Where are we going?"
Janice grinned wildly and joked, "For a walk on the beach."
"What?" Joxer shook his head then added, "We need to return to Cyrene's house."
"We will… but later," promised the archeologist.
Joxer suddenly became frustrated because he had no idea what was going on so he grabbed Janice's arm roughly.
The archeologist came to an abrupt stopped and tugged Melpomene slightly behind her. She pushed Joxer off to the side of the sidewalk so they were out of the flow of traffic. "There's something I need Mel to show me on the beach."
"Whatever it is it can wait," stated the guard.
"Look soldier boy," growled Janice as she got into his face. "You can go back but I need to do something." She poked him in the chest. "So either you can come or you can go."
Joxer's eyes narrowed. "Gabrielle will-"
"Have to suck it up and deal," chided the archeologist. "She'll be pissed at you either way. At least if you come she'll only be half pissed since you didn't leave Mel and me alone."
Joxer could see by the fire in Janice's eyes there was no way he'd talk her out of it. He also knew he'd be seeing that same fiery green when he saw Gabrielle again but Janice was right too. He let out a long sigh then relented. "Fine."
Janice smiled broadly then teased, "Green-eyed blondes are so convincing, aren't they?" Not waiting or wanting an answer, she continued the journey down the street.
It was about noon high when the group turned into beachcombers on the Aegean Sea side of the peninsula. Janice was trying desperately not to complain about the sand developing in her boots since she brought up this idea. She kept scanning the small cliff side to her left but she wasn't seeing anything resembling cavern entrances.
Melpomene came to a quick halt then pointed straight ahead. "There it is."
The archeologist narrowed her eyes at the small hole in the cliff wall that actually allowed the Aegean waters flow in and out of it. She almost cursed aloud now that she realized the cavern entrance was in fact mostly underwater. "Mel, how'd you get in there?"
The girl turned to her friend and explained, "I found it at low tide… at the new moon."
Janice ripped her hood back and wanted to smack her forehead. Of course it was at the new moon cycle that the tide would be low and Melpomene would just stumble across it.
"Well that was a waste of time," remarked Joxer, a smug expression.
Janice release the girl's hand, swung off her pack, and slammed it hard into Joxer's chest.
The guard gasped for air then he gaped when he saw Janice taking her cloak off too. "You're not going to…."
"I don't have much choice," offered the archeologist.
"What's so important about this cave?" urged the man.
Janice knelt down and started unhooking her gun. She knew that the salty water of the sea could easily rust out her gun, which she certainly didn't want happening. "Just stay here and watch Mel for me." She rammed the gun into her satchel that Joxer held. "And if I'm not back in half an hour, worry."
"Half an… hour?"
Janice sighed as she yanked off her now unlaced boots. The time issue was getting on the archeologist's nerves. "If I'm not back in a reasonable time then get back to Cyrene's."
Joxer opened his mouth to argue.
"Just do it," snapped Janice and she didn't wait for another word. She adjusted her sword on her back and started for the stream that broke the beach in half.
Melpomene sadly watched her friend go but she took two steps towards Janice's direction. "Be careful, Janice!" she called over the din of the crashing waves.
Janice flashed a brilliant smile then took several running steps. She jumped, dove into the deep stream, and swam for the dark opening of the cave. She could only pray she'd make it especially because it'd been years since her last swim. She kept her eyes open against the sting of the salt water and she desperately searched for safety. Her eyes strained against the pitch black water then a dim light exposed itself up ahead.
Janice clenched her teeth when her lungs began to burn and her heart's beat was slowing down. She forced her legs and arms to go faster to shoot her body through the brisk water. The archeologist followed the only light, her eyes aching, and her chest on fire but she suddenly erupted at the top.
The cavern pool filled with a loud gasp from Janice's frantic intake of air. She brushed her wet bangs out of her face and hastily scanned the dark cavern for any signs of life. Her feet lightly skimmed over the bottom of the cave but she dared not touch her feet to the bottom incase of sharp rocks. She swam for the rock shoreline and hauled herself up onto the somewhat slimy edge.
The archeologist finished her last large gulp of needed air. Then she picked out a silhouette of something on the cavern wall so she went to it. With her hands and eyes, she figured out it was a torch yet she had nothing to light it. Janice could only wonder so she knelt down and her hands scanned over the hard surface then she came up with two interesting, rough rocks. She took a chance and banged the rocks over the torch and was rewarded by sparks setting the torch on fire.
Janice watched in amazement as stalactites suddenly formed above her from the light of the torch. Her eyes widened at the beauty of the yellow teeth that bore down at her. She released an unknown held breath then she moved forward through the cave for some time. She carefully watched her footing incase there was anything sharp on the cavern floor. Along the way, she observed other torches anchored to the walls that were scattered here and there. It was confirming her suspicions that this may lead to the Conqueror's fortress.
Janice was never positive how long she traveled for in the beautiful cave but she came around a sharp turn then before her was a heavy wood. Behind the door, she heard a hushed voice followed by some sharp noise then another stifled voice. The door blocked her from going forward and when Janice knelt down after seeing the keyhole, she peered through it carefully.
A warm air breathed through the keyhole onto Janice's face and she inhaled a foul, dying stench that turned her stomach. Gradually the archeologist's keen eye for detail sharpened to the small yet plentiful image through the keyhole. The image filled her vision suddenly and it almost made Janice gasp loudly but her hand muffled the cry.
The man behind the bars dropped his head back again and screamed when the whip hit his back. His head fell forward as he dangled from the chains around his bloody wrists. He kept crying and taking the punishment that he could not refuse anyway. His red back was mutilated by ravishing whip marks.
Janice quickly turned her head away with her eyes slammed shut yet the whip's crack then the man's scream filtered through the keyhole into her left ear. She hastily climbed to her feet then stumbled back a few feet, her hand still over her mouth. She tried to control her upset stomach as much as the images but she lost it.
The archeologist was hunched over in a corner, her breakfast emptied from her stomach, and her legs shaking. The only thing that kept her up right was her left hand pressed against the cavern wall. She forced her legs to lifted her back up and she turned the torch back on the black wood door that kept her away from what she believed was the Conqueror's very own Tartarus on earth.
She shook her head at the door and murmured, "I hope Mel never witnessed that." At the thought of the child it made her realize that most likely Melpomene would be in that such position like that tortured man. The idea stirred Janice's deepest anger and made her realize just how this ruler was blackening her very heart each day.
Janice gripped the torch in her right hand harder. Her thoughts about Melpomene reminded her that she needed to get back before it was any later. She turned back and hurried down the cave but stayed vigilant about her steps. She stopped at the cavern pool, bent over, and extinguished the torch in the cold water. After she returned to the torch to its home, she slipped into the chilled water then swam close to where the cave's wall touched the water. She took three big breathes then dropped into the water with every intent to make it back safely.
The archeologist pushed forward and quickly through the biting water as she followed the tunnel of light. She glimpsed below her body and caught the sight of the hungry teeth of stalagmites grinning up at her. She knew she was safe as she exploded to the surface in the stream between the beaches.
"Janice!" cried a familiar voice. Melpomene jumped up from sitting on a washed up, worn tree stump.
Joxer had been leaning against the cliff side with a worried face. He smiled at seeing his charge still alive.
Melpomene helped her friend get out of the stream and onto the beach again.
Janice shivered against the sea breeze brushing against her already chilled skin.
"Here." Joxer held out the archeologist's cloak.
Janice happily received it and wrapped it around her body to block the breeze.
"Are you okay?" asked the worried girl.
Janice knelt down in front of the girl and she tried to ignore her need to wipe at her stinging eyes. "Mel, did you find that door at the end of the cave?"
Melpomene stared at Janice with puzzled features.
Janice abruptly grabbed the girl's arms and fiercely demanded, "Mel, did you find that door?"
The child was shaken by Janice's sudden aggressiveness but she hastily shook her head. "N-n-no… I didn't find any door."
"You swear?" urged the archeologist.
Joxer stepped closer because he could tell that the girl was frightened some. He held back when green eyes flashed a warning at him.
"I swear I didn't," promised the child.
Janice exhaled all her frustrations then realized how she was acting. She wanted to give the girl a hug but she couldn't with being so soaked. She released her tension then tried to smile at Melpomene. "I'm sorry," she murmured, "I didn't mean to scare you."
Melpomene slowly smiled now then whispered, "Its okay." She enjoyed the returned tenderness when Janice's fingers fixed her disarrayed hair from the sea breeze.
"How about we get back and get our warm baths?"
The young girl showed her beautiful smile. "Yes, since you really need one now. You smell like seaweed."
The archeologist laughed but leaned in and growled, "What'd you say?" Her hands slipped down to the child's side.
Melpomene suddenly screamed in protest when sneaky fingers found her most ticklish spots at her side and tummy. She stumbled back to get away from her attacker but she bumped into Joxer. She peered up at Joxer and demanded, "Don't let her tickle me!"
Janice smirked up at the man then her glowing eyes lowered to her young friend. "He's a sissy, Mel. You better pick a better protector."
Melpomene folded her arms against her chest and proudly stated, "Joxer isn't a sissy."
The archeologist inwardly chuckled at this display. Her hooded eyes lifted to Joxer, who was puffing out his chest in pride too.
"I'm not, Melpomene… thank you."
Melpomene smiled up at him then gave a brisk nod at Janice.
The archeologist relented with a soft laugh as she rose up. She efficiently clasped her cloak together with her feather pin. She stepped up to Joxer, slapped her right hand against his chest, and muttered, "Your decadent is the biggest sissy I know." She smirked then before there was any protest, she went to her pack, scooped it up, and began the walk back to the city. As she went along she worked out her gun from the satchel then paused to slip it into its holster on her right boot.
Melpomene was horrified and she gasped. "She is so mean, Joxer."
The guard chuckled at the girl's teasing words. "That's okay, Melpomene." He held down his hand to collect hers. Although before he started walking, he bent down and cleverly stated, "At least I don't act like her and try to be tough when I'm really sweet on the inside."
Melpomene giggled at his words. "She really is mushy," she exclaimed.
"I heard that!" yelled Janice from ahead.
Joxer and Melpomene laughed together at Janice's reaction, which they fully intended to get from her. The pair hurriedly followed Janice and eventually caught up to her. When Joxer was close enough to Janice, he quietly inquired, "What'd you find in the cave?"
The stranger bit her lower lip and she debated how to answer because Melpomene was so near. Her glistened eyes met Joxer's and she softly answered, "The door to Tartarus."
The guard understood what Janice meant and he shook his head. "Nobody in the faction knew of that cave."
"No, I suppose not." Janice smirked then her husky voice teased, "Instead a homeless child discovered it."
Joxer grunted and glimpsed at the girl in discussion. He slightly smiled then asked, "How did you befriend her?"
"The Conqueror's soldiers were going to haul her away for stealing flatbread."
Joxer's features darkened. "I hate the sentries in the city. They're as ruthless as the Conqueror."
"She makes them that way," summarized the disgusted archeologist.
The guard slowly nodded. "You are right, Janice."
The small party made it back onto the streets of Corinth and by that time it was mid afternoon. Joxer instructed them that they would need to hurry so they could make it to the meeting. Janice insisted her and Melpomene needed quick baths before going to the meeting. Joxer gave in even though he knew they'd be late but he knew that a long time ago when they first started this adventure.
They arrived at Cyrene's home yet the house was empty of anybody. Joxer knew the meeting was going to start soon, which meant Gabrielle and Cyrene were headed there. He directed Janice and Melpomene to the bathing room that was connected to Cyrene's room. He briefed Janice on how it worked then he left them alone.
It didn't take long for Janice and Melpomene to get cleaned up, dried, and into clean clothes except for Janice. She merely got back into her leathers that had a slight salty scent from her sea but she didn't mind it really. The salt and leather mix was slightly appealing and it mingled with her now not so appealing flowery scent. She really disliked flowery or feminine scents on her body but she couldn't overly complain. Finally she spotted little Melpomene coming out of the bathing room all cleaned up and into her new clothes.
Melpomene straightened out her skirt and gazed up with questioning features.
Janice chuckled at the child. "You're beautiful, Mel."
Melpomene smiled at this then her smile twitched into a grin. "I wasn't before?"
Janice laughed and stepped up to the girl. She bent forward with a grin. "You were but I can see it all better now that the dirt is gone."
Melpomene stuck her tongue out then teased back, "You don't smell like seaweed now."
Janice chuckled then quickly ruffled the girl's neat hair. She made a hasty retreat when Melpomene yelped in protest.
Melpomene growled while she fixed her hair. She marched out of Cyrene's room and glowered at the archeologist that stood by Joxer. "You're so mean."
Joxer was amused as he watched the stare down between the woman and the girl but to him Janice was the girl and Melpomene was the woman. He licked his lips and bit back his laughter then he innocently asked Janice, "Are you ready, kiddo?"
Janice's head whipped around and she reacted by punching him in the arm. "I'm ready, sissy boy." She tossed him a leering look before going to the door.
"Ow," complained Joxer and he rubbed his right arm where Janice had punched him.
Melpomene shook her head at their supposed guard. "You are being a sissy, Joxer." She stomped past him and went up to Janice, who was holding out her hand.
Joxer was clearly offended by the two females. He brushed it off though and approached the pair. "Women… I swear."
The archeologist had the front door open but she displayed a warning look at her new keeper. "Watch it, Joxer." She wagged her index finger at him then without another word, she pulled her hood over her face and slipped into the alleyway.
They entered into the now quieting streets as the merchants and customers were preparing to pack up for the day. Some people were already heading out for early dinners. But Janice, Melpomene, and Joxer had other plans, which led them five blocks away.
Joxer guided them safely through the streets. When he knew they were close, he slowed down and came to Janice's side. "We are almost there." He then picked out familiar faces that passed by him and he decided to mention it to Janice. "That man that just went by…." At Janice's nod he continued. "He's one of the faction guards."
The archeologist was stunned. "What was he doing?"
Joxer shifted in closer so he could speak quietly. "When there is a faction meeting, the guards patrol the nearby streets… make sure there isn't any trouble."
"Wouldn't they stay in the meeting room to protect them?"
"Only one does," answered Joxer, "but the fasts way to avoid trouble is to see it in advance."
The strange appreciated that idea completely.
"Down here," instructed Joxer. He directed them to another wood door where he gave a specific type of knock. The door was opened by what Janice assumed to be one of the elite faction guards. The three of them slipped into the room, which wasn't very big beyond the large table in the center of the room with a handful of people at the table.
Janice spotted Gabrielle at the head of the one end of the table and Cyrene was at the other end. She almost went to remove her hood but stopped when she realized it was probably not the right time. Instead she listened to the chatter between the council members because they were in some heated discussion.
Joxer stepped to the right of the door while the other guard kept to the left.
Janice and Melpomene stepped closer to the arguing table but they kept away and silent.
"This is impossible, Gabrielle," shouted one man. "There is no way we can assassinate the Conqueror."
"Even with Rhode's abilities to get us into the Conqueror's fortress there is a high probability of death."
"What about Rhode's life?" challenged another councilor. "If the Conqueror discovers that one of her advisors is in the rebel faction she won't think twice about slitting his throat."
Rhodes slightly paled at the mental image but he shook it away because he didn't take on his position in the faction to lose courage now. "Gabrielle has a point that we must try."
The councilors settled down when the very man that was closest to the Conqueror spoke.
"Rhodes, this could mean your life," reminded a concerned member.
Rhodes sighed but he shook his head. "I wouldn't have volunteered to join the rebel faction if I'd originally been worried about my own life." He leaned forward and captured all of the member's eyes. "This is dangerous for all of us… we could be exposed and the Conqueror will hunt each of us down. We didn't start this faction just to cower under the Conqueror when there is a solution in our grasp." His steely eyes turned to his right where Gabrielle sat next to him.
Gabrielle nodded in appreciation for the man's words.
"Why should we take this risk when it most likely will fail?" tried a council member. "We should wait it out until a more solid plan arises."
Rhodes opened his mouth to retaliate yet Gabrielle asked him to hold back.
Gabrielle grabbed her walking stick, which rested against her chair. She loudly slammed it on the table in front of her and that grabbed everybody's attention solely on her. "I started this rebel faction seasons ago so that one day I could stop the Conqueror. I started this rebel faction so that the people could have hope again." Her dark green eyes scanned the faces of her members. "I, Gabrielle of Potidaea, stood up before the Conqueror." She closed her eyes and willed all of her inner strength to her legs. She gradually rose up and the pain flashed up and down her legs.
Rhodes inhaled sharply and tried to move to help but Gabrielle waved him off.
Gabrielle clenched her teeth yet she continued to rise up, her back lifting up as her legs straightened up to her once forgotten height. Her brow was coated in sweat and her body throbbed with tearing pain. Her eyes slowly open as she proudly stood before her council and she demanded, "And now we will all stand as one against the Conqueror."
There was a brief, stunned silence in the room by the amazing display of the rebel leader. The leader remained poised before her followers with all of her faith and determination that held her up on her once shattered legs.
Cyrene, the Conqueror's mother, stood up from her chair. "I, Cyrene of Amphipolis, stand against the Conqueror."
Rhodes pushed his chair back then stood. "I, Rhodes of Corinth, stand against the Conqueror."
Another chair scrapped across the wood floor. "I, Argus of Athens, stand against the Conqueror."
"I, Althea of Tripolis, stand against the Conqueror."
The din of wood scraping against wood grew louder and the chorus of united rebellion rang in the meeting room. Finally the entire council stood in unison and harmony for one purpose beyond any fears. The leader could no longer contain her smile of appreciation and she ordered, "Please be seated, everybody." She waited until each person was seated then she slowly and painfully returned to her own chair.
Rhodes brought up the question on every councilor's mind. "Who is the man to assassinate the Conqueror?"
Janice took her cue as she released Melpomene, stepped forward, and ripped her hood back. "I am the man."
There was heartbeat of silence then a loud commotion of questions, demands, and pure confusion engulfed the meeting room.
Gabrielle bowed her head as her ears were hit by all the mangled voices. When the silence finally returned she lifted her head and revealed a growing grin at her members' clear state of perplexity. If she pulled another surprise on them during this meeting she was almost convinced they'd all probably kick her out of the faction.
Janice was absolutely smug, arms over her chest, and a broad grin. She listened to her ancestor weave the tale about her seeming identical twin, which left every member breathless. She then sensed a small hand touched her right hand so she peered down at her young, innocent friend.
Melpomene offered a warm smile and she received back a wink from Janice.
The archeologist lifted her head though when the council started talking about the plan to assassinate the Conqueror. She carefully listened roughly worked out plans, which she was relieved to hear the council agreeing to mostly. She picked up on everybody's largest concern, which was how Janice was going to get into the Conqueror's undetected. Rhodes was the first to try a suggestion but it was too risky for him and Janice.
Janice took her opening when there was a mostly quietness. "I found a way into the Conqueror's."
The councilors went silent and some had to twist around to glimpse at Gabrielle's double.
Janice squeezed Melpomene's hand then guided her to Gabrielle. She stood next to Gabrielle so that everybody had a better view of her. "Actually, I didn't find it… it was my friend, Melpomene, here that discovered it."
The councilors peered down at the young girl, who suddenly became shy from the attention. She tucked herself between Janice and Janice's cloak.
The archeologist cleared her throat then explained, "There is a hidden cave on the Aegean side that leads to the Conqueror's."
"How can you be sure?" inquired Gabrielle, her head twisted and studying her descendant.
The archeologist dazzled a smile. "I followed it today." She saw the narrowing of Gabrielle's eyes so Gabrielle now knew why Janice was fashionably late to the meeting. Janice ignored the look though and before she said anymore about what she found, she covered Melpomene's ears. "There was a locked door at the end of the cave's tunnel. When I peered through the keyhole I realized it was looking into a dungeon."
"It's an escape route," concluded Rhodes, "I never realized the Conqueror had such."
"Well she does," stated Janice, "and it's perfect route to get into her fortress." She finally removed her hands from covering Melpomene's ears but she rested her hands on the girl's shoulders. "I think it’s the easiest way into there."
Rhodes thought this out then he perked up. "Some of the guards in the dungeon that we've bribed could help."
"Do you think you can find out who has a key to that door?" inquired the leader.
Rhodes leaned towards Gabrielle. "Of course, Gabrielle… I am the Conqueror's advisor of state."
Several people chuckled at the deceptive man.
The bard smirked. "Make it happen, Rhodes."
Rhodes dipped his head in agreement.
"What then?" urged Councilor Argus.
"We need to pull the Conqueror's attention away from the fortress," suggested Cyrene.
Gabrielle considered this idea. "Perhaps we need to stir up trouble in the city."
"We could start some minor riots," suggested a prominent councilor.
As Janice listened to them go on, she scanned over the various council members. She was astonished to find such a mix among the members as they were males and females, wealthy and poor, artists to politicians, Greek to Gaelic, and old to young. The cruelest tyrant had managed to destroy social restrictions and bring together these people in one purpose.
The meeting started to wind down when the members all began agreeing on certain terms and plans. When the meeting was almost to a close, the main door flew open before the guards could react.
"There's trouble!" called a man as he rushed into the room.
Joxer slammed the door shut after resheathing his sword.
Janice turned her head to see Perdicus breathing heavily, probably from running.
"What's happened?" demanded Gabrielle.
"The Conqueror has discovered you're not dead, Gabrielle." Perdicus hurried over to the leader. "Alti called in for your cross and when… the Conqueror is furious."
Rhodes stood up. "What is she doing?"
Perdicus gulped for air then hastily answered, "The Conqueror has ordered her sentry squads to storm every building in the city until she finds Gabrielle. They're searching every place and asking everybody." His frantic features lowered to Gabrielle. "I have already executed the escape plans, Gabrielle. We must get you out of here."
The rebel leader was pale but her mind caught up with the reeling information. "I can't leave when the plans for the assassination are beginning."
"There will be no plans if you die," hotly reminded Perdicus.
"You must escape, Gabrielle," agreed Rhodes. "If she finds you...." He couldn't bring himself to finish his own words.
"I have survived her death once already," argued the frustrated bard.
Janice grasped her ancestor's shoulder. "You will not live this time if you do not leave, Gabrielle." Her eyes captured Gabrielle's and held her. "You must survive for this to work."
"What about you?" whispered the worried bard.
"I will be fine," promise the archeologist.
Joxer stepped away from the door to join in the conversation. "I will protect her, Gabrielle… with my sword and my life."
The archeologist was stunned by the gesture from the man she hadn't considered much of a friend back in her time. It warmed her to some degree.
Gabrielle turned her worried eyes to Cyrene.
Cyeren stood up and definitively stated, "We must go, Gabrielle before the Conqueror locks down the gates."
"The cart will be here any moment," interrupted Perdicus. He lifted his head to the council. "You all must hurry back to your homes before the sentries show."
"I need to get my ass to the Conqueror's fortress," hissed Rhodes and he started to move along with the rest of the council.
Gabrielle snatched up her stick and stood up.
Janice faced her ancestor. "Where will you go?"
"I don't know," confessed the bard, "but away from here. Perdicus and two other guards will go with us. We may return to Amphipolis until its safe again."
"No," cut in Janice, "you won't be safe there." At seeing Gabrielle's protest, she grabbed her ancestor's shoulders. "Trust me on this."
"Where should we go then?" tried Cyrene.
The archeologist's gaze flickered between Cyrene and Gabrielle then she answered, "To the Amazons."
"The Amazons?" echoed Perdicus. "They will not help us."
"Yes they will," fought back Janice, her burning eyes on the guard. She turned back to her ancestor. "Ask for Ephiny… tell her you met me and that I asked her to help you. If she doesn't believe you then tell her that…." She paused and faintly grinned despite things. "Tell her that Janny sent you."
Gabrielle's nose crinkled at the nickname but she dared not to ask.
Joxer had unknowingly left the meeting hunt when all the members had filtered out earlier. He returned and announced, "The cart is here, Gabrielle."
"Let's go," ordered Perdicus.
The group hurried out of the meeting room and into the alleyway. Janice was the last out because she had to scoop up the frightened Melpomene. Janice spied the cart at the end of the alleyway with two guards in it already and waiting for Cyrene and Gabrielle. Janice's emotions surged up as she realized what she had to do now.
"Gabrielle, you must take Melpomene with you."
Cyrene quickly moved over and grabbed the child's waist. When she tried to lift Melpomene from Janice's grasp it was impossible.
"No," cried Melpomene, who clung tightly to Janice. "I won't go!"
"Ssssh, sssh." Janice shifted away from Cyrene, bent down, and lowered the girl to the ground. "Its okay, Mel."
Melpomene's eyes suddenly started to sting and her cheeks became wet. "I won't go… I won't leave you."
"Ooo god." Janice wiped the girl's tears away but she couldn't stop them. "You have to go, Mel. You could get hurt… or worse if you stay with me."
"No," rasped the emotional child. Her vise grip on Janice's two cloak sleeves weren't loosening. "I saw the Conqueror kill my first sister… she won't take you too!" She frantically shook her head. "I won't let her," she whispered then threw herself into Janice's body.
Janice enveloped the desperate, crying girl. "I have to do this, Mel.," she whispered. Her dammed emotions broke and her tears trickled down her hot cheeks. How could that ruler be so heartless and cold to kill this innocent child's sister? Janice's anger raged along side her passionate heart.
"No you don't," whimpered the girl, "you'll die if you do."
"No I won't," promised Janice, "you'll see me again."
Melpomene cried out, "No I won't!"
"Sssh, ssssh it's okay." Janice pulled her head back and wiped the soaked bangs from the child's forehead. "If you stay, Mel I won't be able to do this right." She searched the girls terrified yet loving eyes. "I'll be too worried about you then I could be killed."
"No," sobbed the girl, "please, Janice."
Janice wiped the wet crystals still pouring down the child's face. "Listen, okay?" When Melpomene nodded her head she whispered, "I promise you, Mel that I will be fine and that I'll see you afterwards. I swear." She then freed her right hand and placed it over the Melpomene's chest. "Do you have faith?"
Melpomene was still crying but she wasn't shaking her head anymore. She freed her right hand too then placed it against Janice's chest, just over her heart. "I have faith." She felt the steady heartbeat under her small hand.
Janice scooped the girl back into her arms and placed a kiss to her cheek while standing back up. She stepped up to Cyrene and held out the girl.
Cyrene carefully pulled Melpomene into her arms.
Melpomene buried her face into Cyrene's neck so that her cries would be muffled.
Janice's hand trailed down Melpomene's back one last time then she stepped back. Her teeth were gritted against her emotions. "Now go before it's too late."
"Come on," whispered Perdicus, who was in agreement with Janice.
Cyrene turned and jogged down the alley with her precious bundle.
Perdicus stepped up to Gabrielle. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle but we have to move."
The bard grasped her guard's shoulder to make him pause. "Do not fail that little girl, Janice." Her feelings caved in finally and a few tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Keep her safe," rasped Janice.
"With my life," promised Gabrielle. "Please be safe."
"You too. Now please go." Janice stepped back until she was next to Joxer.
Perdicus bent then neatly picked up the rebel leader into his arms. He adjusted her for the heartbeat then after a brisk nod to Joxer, he hurried down the alleyway to the waiting cart.
The archeologist stood motionless except for the tears trickling down her red cheeks. Her chest was heaving against her emotions. All she could do was watch as Gabrielle, Cyrene, and Melpomene were hidden under heavy blankets to obscure their forms.
Perdicus gave a shout to the driver.
The cart lurched forward into the street.
Melpomene's head popped out from under the blankets. Her loving eyes held Janice's until finally the cart rounded a corner and was gone.
Janice closed her eyes and furiously wiped her tears away. She fought her feelings back down again in hopes she'd get some clarity. When it did come something else filled her ears and it was the sounds of yelling and screaming. She turned the opposite way and faced the screams that floated through the city.
Joxer swallowed and murmured, "It has begun… the hunt is on."
"Where will we go?" answered the archeologist.
"Back to the beach." The guard shifted closer then whispered, "I've made arrangements for supplies to be brought to us later. We must go now though." He checked his sword then ordered, "Listen to everything I tell you. Stay close. And don't look back."
Janice bit the inside of her mouth roughly but she nodded and pulled her hood over. When Joxer took off at a run her adrenaline broke free and pushed her forward with amazing speed. She reached into her deepest strength to help her survive this trial.
Chapter 7 – Welcome to Tartarus on Earth
Joxer rubbed his hands together then held them out over the fire. He glimpsed over at Janice, who was huddled by the fire too so she'd be warm against the biting sea breeze. He lowered his now warm hands to his lap. He then twisted his head around when he saw a dark outline of somebody coming towards them in the night. He quickly stood and unsheathed his sword in worry.
Janice also got up and her fingertips grazed her sword hilt at her back.
"Ho, Joxer," called a man.
Joxer relaxed and lowered his sword at hearing the familiar voice. "I thought you forgot us, Palaemon."
"Now would I really do that?" challenged the grinning man as he held out two leather packs. When Joxer took them, he swung off a third from his back. "You should be happy to see me."
"I am," agreed Joxer. He then pointed to Janice on the other side of the fire. "Palaemon, this is Janice."
The archeologist's slow grin spread over her features when Palaemon stared at her in amazement.
"They weren't kidding," he remarked, "she looks just like Gabrielle."
Janice rolled her eyes at being discussed, yet again, in third person as if she wasn't here. She stepped up to the tall man and narrowed her eyes at him. "I also have a worse temper than Gabrielle."
Palaemon held up his hands in surrender. "I won't argue… Gabrielle's temper is scary enough."
Janice smirked and went over to Joxer to see what were in the packs. Her stomach had been growling all evening since they made it out of the city.
"Did they make it out of the city safely?" asked Janice. She straightened up with a skin in her left hand.
Palaemon folded his arms over his leather clad chest. "Yes, just in time too." He then tilted his head some. "I heard you'll have to do some diving to get into the Conqueror's so I brought a waterproof sack."
Joxer just found that pack and removed the oily feeling leather from the satchel. "That's perfect, Palaemon. Thank you for thinking of it."
Palaemon had a wide grin. "I'm always thinking ahead, you know."
Joxer chuckled and straightened up after laying out the items in the sand. "Do you need to get back?"
"Yes," sighed out Palaemon, "the councilors are high strung tonight about what's happened."
"Nobody was hurt?" persisted Janice.
Palaemon ran his tongue along the backside of his front teeth.
"Shit, what happened?" insisted the archeologist.
Palaemon shook his head as his arms slipped from his chest. "The people were frightened and the sentries were ruthless because the Conqueror was so angry. Some people's homes were wrecked others were jailed because they refused to answer a soldier's questions. It was chaos."
Janice dropped her head and tangled her fingers in her short, blond hair.
Palaemon saw the reaction and he quietly stated, "Trust me, Janice when I say the Conqueror in her warlord days she was much worse."
The archeologist dropped her hand down and peered up at the man. "You're telling me she's soft now?"
"In comparison, yes," admitted Palaemon sadly.
Janice bit her lower lip then stomped off in the heat of her anger.
Joxer neared his fellow guard and asked, "How many were imprisoned?"
Palaemon's lips tightened together. "At least a couple hundred… I'm not really sure."
"And I'm sure the Conqueror is even more furious that they didn't find Gabrielle," mentioned Janice as she came back to the pair. "She won't stop searching until she has Gabrielle."
"She won't… you're right," agreed Joxer.
"Most likely," started Palaemon, "she'll search the city for another six days then send out spies and bounty hunters to find Gabrielle."
Joxer put his arms over his chest and muttered, "There'll be a reward out on her head."
"Those damn Amazons better take her in," growled the archeologist.
Joxer shook his head and his sad eyes met Janice's. "They may not because she's high risk."
"They will," hotly stated the archeologist.
There was an awkward silence but Palaemon broke it when he realized something. "Tomorrow Rhodes promised somebody would open the door in the dungeon."
Janice perked up at this news. "He say what time?"
"He didn't have an exact time," confessed Palaemon, "but around Helios high."
This goddamn time thing again, mentally complained Janice. She considered Palaemon's words carefully and realized that he meant at noon. Her head started to bob now. "Alright, that works."
"After that, you're on your own," added Palaemon. "There's not much that Rhodes can do without being caught and jeopardizing everything."
Janice exhaled loudly. "Alright." She moved away from the pair and went to the spread out articles in the sand.
"I should go," mentioned Palaemon. "I'll see you later, Joxer." He then held up a hand to Janice in a goodbye gesture. "Good luck and be safe, Janice."
"Thanks, Palaemon." The archeologist flashed a smile then briefly watched him go.
Joxer neared Janice and squatted down beside her. "We should eat then get some rest… tomorrow will be a...."
"A day in hell," mumbled the archeologist.
The pair organized all of the supplies that Palaemon had brought them. They first positioned their bedrolls and furs by the fire then sat down to quietly eat their meal. The dinner consisted of dry beef, cheese, fruit, and diluted wine in the skins. The mild wine helped to warm the two's bodies against the cold wind that came off the sea. After eating, Joxer showed Janice how to use the water resistant satchel and explained that it could be tied to her waist while she swam so that she wouldn't have to hold it. Janice was grateful for the bag as it would keep her gun from rusting in the salt water along with her bullets.
Joxer then gave the archeologist a sheathed dagger that Palaemon had also included. He helped her wiggle the dagger into her boot so that she knew how to perfectly conceal it other than the small hilt. Janice was starting to feel like a walking war zone but then again if she was going to survive the Conqueror's Tartarus, she would need these items.
Finally by the middle of the night, they pair curled up in their furs and bedrolls to get some rest. Janice for her part couldn't find her dreams tonight because her mind was working so hard to figure out tomorrow. She didn't know what the inside of the Conqueror's fortress would look like or how to find the Conqueror. She only knew she'd have to hunt down the Conqueror then secretly setup in hiding so she could get a clear shot. All she needed were enough seconds to pull her revolver's hammer back, take aim, and pull the trigger then it would be almost over.
The morning came all too fast but the pair quickly moved to get ready. Janice made sure her gun was loaded then she put it into the waterproof satchel along with her gun, spare pouch of bullets, the dagger, her boots, and finally her cloak.
"Are you ready for this?" Joxer walked along side the short blond to the stream just ahead.
"I'd like to think I am but I'm probably not," admitted the archeologist. "I'm as ready as I'm going to be." She stopped at the edge of the stream and faced Joxer. "What will you do?"
"I will stay here for a few days… wait for your return," answered the guard. "Don't be foolish with your life, Janice."
Janice grinned. "I think it’s a little late for that."
The guard held out his arm.
Janice clasped it in a brisk shake. She then released him while saying, "Thank you, Joxer."
Joxer only dipped his head.
The archeologist turned to the stream, placed her waterproof satchel near the edge, and she jumped into the water.
The guard went to the edge and watched Janice tie the short rope to her waist then he handed the satchel to her. "Be safe, Janice."
"I'll try my best but no promises." Janice brushed her soaked bangs back. "Don't wait too long for me." She had the other end of the rope tied to the satchel and she let go of the satchel.
The satchel sunk down into the water but it didn't weigh all the way as it floated some in the water.
"Bye, Joxer." Janice flashed a confident grin then she dove under.
"Bye… Janice." Joxer stood up and watched the silhouette pulse through the water and disappear underneath the cavern wall that went into the water.
Janice just made it to the surface in the cavern pool just pass the cavern tunnel wall. She quietly bobbed up to the top of the water but she didn't cross the pool when something caught her ear. She silently lowered her head deeper into the water just so the water was under her nose.
The first strange thing she noticed was that the torches were all lit in the tunnel. It made her skin crawl because that could only mean trouble. The noise down in the cavern tunnel was getting nearer and turned into distinct voices of men just idly talking.
Janice tried to ignore the cold in her body from the water. She finally saw the two loud men round the bend ahead and they were pushing a wood cart. She tried to figure out what in the world they had in the cart but they were too far for her to figure it out. She lifted her head some so that she could take some large gulps of air. Just as the two soldiers neared the pool, Janice had disappeared under the water to hide.
The archeologist tried to still her mind's fears of being found. She had her eyes closed for a second then she opened them when she heard a noise in the water. About fifty feet ahead she saw a dark cloud form in the water and the cloud expanded further out as the stream pulled it towards her. Then Janice covered her mouth with a clenched fist when she saw a human skull fall out of the bottom of the dark cloud and hit the floor of the pool. The skull came to a rolling stop on top of two other skulls that Janice hadn't seen earlier. Suddenly her eyes widened as she realized exactly what those two soldiers were dumping into the pool.
Janice couldn't take it and she didn't care if those soldiers were there or not. She broke the top of the water and gulped on fresh air. She was relieved to see the soldiers were already carting back down the tunnel. Her breathing wasn't slowing down when she saw the dark cloud was moving towards her. The thought of swimming in human ashes almost made Janice sick right there but she hurried to the closest edge of the pool and away from the expanding cloud.
Janice hauled herself up onto the edge, yanked her satchel out of the water, and curled up so she could calm down and warm her body back up. She sat there breathing heavily and watching the cloud became washed out by the flowing stream. She lowered her face into her hands and rasped, "Ooo my god." Her mind flashed with an image of the skull staring up at her before it landed on the others at the bottom. "Holy… shit." She'd seen plenty human remnants in her days as an archeologist but this was far different since these were from people recently alive and she was swimming in it.
Now Janice clearly understood the second use of this tunnel. They would cremate the dead bodies in the dungeons then dump their ashes in the stream so they would float out to the Aegean Sea. Her thought process was broken when there was a heavy slam at the end of the tunnel echoing down to her. She now knew the soldiers had gone back into the dungeon, which made it safe for her.
The archeologist willed her body to move so she shifted around until she was partially in the tunnel way. She opened her satchel and took out her cloak first. She got it on and clasped it in place as her body started to warm again. She then got her boots tied on followed by her gun in its home then last her dagger tucked in her left boot. Janice climbed to her feet and rolled up the proofed satchel with its roped and tucked it behind some rocks incase she needed it later.
Janice then yanked her hood over her face before she trailed down the tunnel. She would meet the maker on the other side of the door to Tartarus. She wasn't sure how long she waited by the door, for it to open with either those two soldiers again or the bribed soldier that was going to let her through.
There was a clank then a click from the door and slowly it started to swing open.
Janice was instantly off the rock and unsheathing her sword just incase.
A soldier with beady eyes poked his head around the door and narrowed at Janice. "Rhodes sent you?"
The archeologist mutely nodded and lowered her sword to her side.
The soldier opened the door more then stepped aside at the mysterious figure floated by him. He slammed the door shut, locked it, and murmured, "There are three levels for the dungeon. You're on the third. The only way up is down that way." He pointed in a general direction then his ring of keys dangled at his side where he reattached them. He smirked at the stranger and stated, "Good luck, fella." Without another word, he turned to this right and marched down a torch lit hallway.
Janice scanned the room, which had cells against either side of the walls then in the middle were cages. She wasn't surprised at all by the number of people in all of them. Her stomach turned as she recognized the man that'd been whipped yesterday. He had his back to Janice but he was lying on the floor of his cage, slumped against it, and still slightly bleeding from yesterday.
Janice swallowed then adjusted her cloak around her body to conceal her better. She could see the prisoners were trying to figure her out, well the ones that were still somewhat alive. She glimpsed down the hall that the soldier had went down earlier and she detected the foul stench of burning bodies and the blazing heat of fire floating in the air. She now knew where the crematorium was located and it wasn't on her list of places to see.
Janice gathered her strength and began silently down the rows of cages. She kept her eyes diverted from the cages and cells so that it wouldn't play with her mentally. She stepped through a doorway into a short hall where there was a wood door to her left. She grabbed the door handle and hesitated on whether to open it or not. After a steadying breath, she carefully drew the door open and discovered a set of winding, torch lit steps. She exhaled in relief then slipped in and closed the door silently.
Janice crept up the steps, against the wall, and listening for anybody that may be coming. It wound up for several cases and finally leveled to another door. Just as she reached the door it already started to open. Janice cursed under her breath and jumped behind the door as it opened up. She pressed her back as hard as she could against the cold stone and prayed they wouldn't detect her yet.
A sentry soldier marched onto the platform and before he descended the steps, he threw the door shut. He started to take his first step however he paused and turned his to the left.
"Hi," greeted Janice.
The sentry's eyes widened but before he could react he was suddenly slammed by a hard fist to the face.
Janice quickly moved behind him and executed a kick to his back legs.
The soldier yelped but lost his balance completely and went flying down the steps. He smashed his head into the stone wall, went unconscious, and slid down a few more steps.
Janice huffed, threw open the door, and slipped out into level two of the dungeon. Here she didn't really find cells exactly but instead there were people hanging from the ceiling in cages or dangling midair from rafters by their lashed hands. Some prisoners were even hanging upside down.
The archeologist's stomach pitched but she controlled her natural urge to be sick. She hurried across the large room and wondered where the next steps may be. She went to the opposite wall and observed another hallway but this one much longer. She pressed against the cold wall and her eyes briefly closed when a cry of pain echoed down the hallway.
Janice swallowed and slipped into the hallway but she unsheathed her sword to be safe. She stopped by the door where there was another raging cry and there was a small barred window in the door. Her curiosity got the best of her and she glimpsed through the tiny window.
In the room beyond the door there was a murky pool of water and in it was a woman, who was locked in a cage. Along the four ledges of the pool were men and they each held long spears at the ready. The woman was trying to stay afloat in the feces infested water but each time she grabbed the bars of the cage the men would lunge at her hands. Her hands were already cut and her right top hand had a bleeding hole in it.
Janice turned and bent forward as she tried to remain in control of her body's reaction. Why did she have to look in there? She'd heard of the water torture before in Ancient China but she never imagined seeing it here in Greece. Suddenly her attention was grabbed when the door to her right was opening so she hunkered down with her sword up.
A sentry stepped out, his back to Janice, and he closed the door next to him. He then marched into the main room where the prisoners were hanging.
The archeologist wondered if that was the next steps so she waited a few seconds. Then when there was a scream from that woman in the room, Janice moved away quickly. She silently opened the heavy door and discovered another set of stairs. She hastily ascended them because she was nervous that second sentry would find the one she'd knocked out earlier.
Janice shoved the door open and stepped into a long hallway. On her left and right were doors after doors with bar windows, which she assumed were merely true prison cells. She spun her sword, bent forward, and quickly raced down the hallway but she came short when a sentry came around the sharp corner.
The sentry was stunned but he recovered quickly by unsheathing his sword. "Stop!" he yelled.
Janice growled and charged the man. This wasn't what she needed right now as it could sound an alarm. She acted quickly by ramming her sword against his, locking their swords between their bodies, and she shoved him against the wall to hold him down. Before he could push her off, she rammed her knee between his legs.
The sentry's eyes rolled up and he gasped in pain. He lowered his hand to his groin as he fell to his knees.
Janice lifted her sword and brought her hilt down on his head roughly. She quickly caught the soldier before his limp body could make a loud bang on the stone floor. She carefully lowered him down then she glimpsed to her left to a shorter hallway through two open, heavy wood doors. She spun her sword gracefully and hurried down that hall that was well lit by the windows. The windows were level with the ground and overlooking an empty courtyard.
Janice came to the end of the hall and bent down next to the corner. She peered around the corner and looked into some sort of lobby room. She saw she could go right or left so she decided on the left hallway.
The archeologist swiftly moved through the vacant hallway and made another left when she came to a 'T'. She quickly floated down this next hall but she stopped when there was footfall coming from the other end. She was close to a door so she grabbed the ring, swung it open, and spun around into the room. She silently closed the door and listened to the person walk by without a care. She realized she'd found another set of staircase that went up one level. Janice shrugged and went up steps and found herself in another hallway.
Janice stood against the door and looked to her right at the empty hall then to her left where it was empty. She had no clue where she was or where she was going nor could she recall where to go to get back. It truly didn't matter to her so she went down to the right and she noted the various bronze plates on the doors. She couldn't read the Greek syntax at all but she could only guess.
A door at the end of the hall opened with two voices furiously arguing. Janice paused when the soldier kept yelling at someone in the room. She turned her head to the left and grabbed the door. She couldn't read the syntax on the door but she didn't care and could only pray. She slipped through the small opening and quietly shut the door.
Janice took in her new surroundings and detected the loud and unfamiliar voices talking down below. Her heart pounded against her chest suddenly as she had a suspicion about where she was now. In font of her was a railing, which overlooked something below so she slowly crept forward.
Janice's stiffened when her eyes went over the railing and down below at ground level sat a thrown at the end of a court. Her view of the occupant of the thrown was obscured but the pounding of heart told her who it had to be. Gradually her eyes wondered off to the right where there were a handful of people talking and debating about something or another.
Janice hunched over so that her body was hidden and with small steps she slinked down the balcony that wrapped around the courtroom below. She achieved some distance about halfway so she paused and carefully glimpsed over the rim of the railing to finally see the person at the thrown.
There seated in the thrown was the ruthless Conqueror adorning her battle ready black leathers and simple brass armor. Her black and purple cape flowed over her thrown to her feet. Her midnight hair covered her broad shoulders and her magnificent blue eyes were visible even to Janice from so far.
"They are all fools," chewed out a husky voice.
The Conqueror held up her hand to the woman at the right of her thrown.
Janice instantly recognized Alti's voice and her skin crawled at seeing the evil shaman beside the ruler.
"She can't hide forever," reminded the Conqueror, "She'll come to us… again." Her steel blue eyes wondered back over to the people before her and they settled on one man. "Commander, what is the status of the legions in Gaul?"
The commander stepped out from the crowd, first bowed, and straightened up. "They have reached the borders, my liege."
The ruler's eyes narrowed. "Are they prepared?"
The commander cleared his throat and put his hands behind his back. He puffed out his metal clad chest before stating, "Almost, my liege." He tensed when the ruler rose up from her thrown with her cape flowing behind her.
The Conqueror took one step down. "I don't like almost." She took the second step down. "Either my legions are prepared or they are not." She took the final step off the dais and towered over the commander. "Are they prepared, Commander Maleager?"
The commander broke under the powerful ruler's will. "They await your word, my liege."
The ruler held his gaze then she smiled suddenly. "Excellent." She turned and ascended each step slowly. She hesitated when a soldier hurried into the courtroom. She neared him at the edge of her dais, listened carefully, and waved him off in annoyance.
The Conqueror's back was to them as she stated, "I want the Norselands under my flag in six months, commander." She turned around and stood in front of her thrown.
"My liege, the winter has already set in up there. The legions could easily die in this weather that we're not prepared for."
"Then I suggest you hurry before the weather turns worse!" yelled the ruler. "If you fail me, commander I will have your head for this. I tire of waiting for the Norselands under my reign."
Janice heaved a breath at hearing the Conqueror's legions all the way up into the Netherlands now. She'd heard enough so she reached down to her gun. She unhooked it and slowly while biting her lower lip pulled the hammer back. By god she had to have true aim more than ever if this was going to work. She held her gun next to her head, her eyes closed, and her lips silently moved with a prayer. She swallowed then gradually lifted her body with her knees.
Janice stretched out her revolver with both her hands clutching the handle. Her right index finger touched the trigger. She forced her mind and eyes to focus together as she took aim at the dark ruler that mirrored Melinda Pappas. She was breathing heavy, her brow showing perspiration, and her hands sweaty against the cold steel of her gun. Janice stole one last calming breath as her scope of view aligned to the Conqueror's chest perfectly. In that heartbeat, Janice's world stilled and her index finger made the slow journey pulling the trigger.
The Conqueror's head snapped up to the balcony when a metal item flashed light into her falcon eyes. She gave a piercing warcry as her right hand slipped to her side. She was so incredibly beautiful in her dangerous speed that freed her chakram.
First there was the eerie whistle of the chakram then a low explosion sounded from the balcony. Next was a wrenching scream from Janice's lips when the circular weapon sliced up her right arm. The last defining sound was the revolver's echoing clank when it hit the marble floor in the courtroom far below.
The Conqueror was momentarily hunched forward from an unknown, sharp pain in her left shoulder. She clenched her teeth and brought her right hand up to catch her chakram that returned. "Stop him!"
Janice had fallen behind the rail when her arm had been neatly sliced. She desperately tried to stop the bleeding but it was useless; it wasn't too deep. Her ears rang with the commotion of people scrambling and yelling. She lifted her head when she heard something just several feet away from her. To her amazement there knelt the Conqueror in all her fury, sword at the ready, and the chakram in her left hand.
Janice scrambled to her feet and brushed her shock away at how the ruler managed to get up here so easily. She unsheathed her sword but her body was shaking in fear. She knew it was impossible for her to defeat this powerful woman in sword to sword combat.
The Conqueror straightened up to her staggering height and flicked her wrist so her sword spun. She took a menacing step towards her hooded attacker.
Janice licked her lips and stepped back once. Her attention was briefly stolen away when the door behind her and the door behind the ruler were flung open. Suddenly Janice was surrounded by the soldiers pouring onto the balcony.
The soldiers were given a hidden signal from their ruler so they remained battle ready with swords out.
The Conqueror bared her teeth at Janice and she moved so fast she almost seemed to vanish.
Janice yelped as she lifted her sword and stopped the slashing sword attack. She jumped away but she recalled the soldiers behind her. There was no way she could survive so she threw away all reason and lunged at the great ruler.
The Conqueror was remotely surprised but she parried the enemy's fruitless attacks. She used her chakram to catch her enemy's sword in it then she ripped the sword from his hands. She watch in complete satisfaction as the sword went airborne. For a brief heartbeat, the Conqueror saw the design of the sword hilt that she was all too familiar with from her past.
Janice backed away when the Conqueror's sword tip pointed at her throat. Her ears filled with the din of her Amazon sword clanking against the marble floor below and she inwardly curse herself for losing her gun so easily. She was so angry that she'd done this that her rage made her act out. Janice suddenly ducked around the Conqueror's blade, leapt into the air, and beautiful maneuvered her dagger from her left boot.
The Conqueror growled as the small body slammed hard into hers. She crashed onto her back with her sword and chakram skidding out of her grasp. She sensed the cold steel against her throat but her powerful hands wrapped around her attacker's small wrists and she pressed away easily. After a dangerous hiss, she rolled the small body under hers and she reversed the dagger's direction until it was against her enemy's own throat.
For the first time, the Conqueror had a clear view of her attacker's features under the hood. She was astounded to see fiery green eyes cursing up at her and the soft features of a woman. She threw off her astonishment and pressed the dagger down hard until the blade began cutting the woman's neck.
Janice gritted her teeth then a cry escaped her lips.
The Conqueror lowered her head down close and whispered, "Almost is never good enough, is it?" She suddenly fisted her right hand that was free and she brought it down.
Janice's head snapped to the right and her body instantly went limp.
The Conqueror dropped the dagger next to the attacker's head. Then she ripped the hood away to reveal a beautiful blond she was very familiar with for a moon now. She grounded her teeth at all the implications this meant and it made no sense either. She suddenly climbed up to her feet but her cape hid the woman's face.
"Who is it?" demanded Alti, who'd slipped between the soldiers.
The ruler grabbed the right side of her cape and threw it out of the way.
Alti tensed at seeing the face of the woman she'd kidnapped a moon ago from the future.
"Perhaps you could tell me, Alti," hissed the angry ruler.
The dark shaman lifted her eyes to the ruler then quietly remarked, "I will find out."
The Conqueror stepped up to the shaman and chewed out, "See that you do… then it'll be my turn." Her head snapped up from Alti and locked on the soldiers behind her. "Get this woman to a damn cell. Find out how the Hades she got into here." When her men hesitated because they too recognized the attacker as the rebel leader, she yelled, "Now!" She collected her weapons and put them in their homes. She went to the railing, bent her knees, and jumped.
Everybody in the court below watched as the ruler soared and landed neatly on the floor with bent knees then she rose up to her threatening height.
The Conqueror bent over the two weapons her attacker had utilized and she scraped them up. She tucked the gun away into some hiding spot within her cape, behind her back. She quickly examined the sword and it confirmed it was very much an Amazon sword. She would have her answers later but she gave a wild grin at her advisors in the court. "Where were we?"
The advisors hastily started talking like nothing happened.
Rhodes, the advisor of state, had slinked into the back of the group. He wiped his sweating brow and tried to calm his irrational thoughts about what just happened. He had to keep a cool head if he was going to outsmart any of this later.
Janice Covington's head rolled from left to right then fell back on cold stone. She tried to open her eyes but her left eye refused as it was swollen shut, the pain thumping. Janice managed her right eye open and she was staring up at a chiseled stone ceiling. She rolled to her left side, which caused her stomach to pitch at the movement. She swallowed down the swimming of her stomach before her contents came up. Her right hand touched her aching stomach and that's when her right arm screamed at her for moving.
Janice hissed at the fiery pain that flashed up and down her arm from her earlier fight with the Conqueror. She finally decided it was time to sit up so she slowly rose up but when her feet tried to move under her, there was a heavy weight around her ankles. She was not too surprised to find shackles around her ankles. She merely sat up and studied her new surroundings, which was a prison cell that consisted of three walls and a heavy wood door in front of her. She tensed when she realized there was a man's face in the small, barred window on the other side. She assumed he was a posted soldier.
The soldier gave a toothy grin but said nothing. He remained still there, watching her, and wondering about her.
Janice touched her throat where there was a slight sting. Her fingertips revealed blood from the cut on her neck. She then dared to touch her left eye but she hissed at the pain. "Goddamn," she growled. She then looked up when the guard shuffled out of the window. There a harsh command and the soldier opened the door.
The archeologist exhaled loudly when the dark shaman floated into the cell. "Great," she muttered.
Alti stood in front of the door that shut behind her and locked. She glided across the cell and stopped in the middle, her dark eyes locked on her small target. "Did you really think you had any chance?" She took two steps closer then knelt down so she was level with the small woman. "The Conqueror knew of the rebel faction's plans. You're a fool, Janice."
The archeologist was breathing heavy because of her mounting anger and hatred for this shaman. Yet she gave an amused grin and brazenly ordered, "You can call me Doctor Covington, doll."
Alti became enraged and her right hand shot out, wrapping around the woman's already injured throat. She snarled while standing up and lifting the archeologist up off the ground so that her boots dangled over the stone floor. "You are in no position to be stupid."
"Neither are you," rasped the archeologist, "I know… you're plans… too, Alti." Her head started to swim against the lack of oxygen but she fought it. "Wouldn't it be fun… to tell the Conqueror… about time travel?"
The shaman hissed then slammed the small body against the stone wall, the shackles clinging in protest. "If you tell her then I can guarantee that all that'll be left is a green powder. You'll never get home."
"Right now," whispered the gasping archeologist, "I don't really… care."
Alti gave a hard jerk so that the back of Janice's head slammed against the wall. She then opened her hand.
Janice fell to the floor in a heap with a blood stain trailing down the wall from her cracked head. She barely held her body up right with her hands.
The shaman bent back down then with both hands she lifted the archeologist's face to hers. She watched as one green eye focused then unfocused but she didn't care. She leaned in and murmured, "You're nothing, Janice… you always have been and always will be." She revealed a hungry grin. "Did your father ever tell you what really happened to your mother?" At Janice's silence Alti pressed her hands tighter against Janice's soft cheeks. "Let me show you," she hissed then laughed.
Janice inhaled sharply and straightened up as her mind was rushed by an intense vision. The vision plagued her of her mother, who was with her father on her last dig. She got into the broken down truck and drove from the dig into town for supplies. It was the last time Janice ever saw her mother. The vision sped up and showed Janice's mother having car trouble, the truck broken down on the side of the road halfway to town where there was nobody. Then as her mom gave in and decided to go back to the dig site, another truck showed up.
Janice unexpectedly screamed out no in pure rage as the vision showed her mother being raped by her mother's would be savior. Her mother begged for mercy for the man to stop, she even tried to fight him to no avail. Janice clawed at Alti's wrists to try and get her to release her of the vision but it was futile. The vision then sped up and showed her mother being beaten to death by the same man until she was dead on the side of the road. As quickly as the vision struck her it ended when Alti pulled her hands away. Janice fell to the floor and tried to get up while yelling, "You fuckin' bitch!"
The shaman laughed coldly and grabbed the archeologist by her hair. She jerked Janice's head back then hotly whispered, "If you so much as breathe to the Conqueror about our little secret I'll find your... friend, Melinda. Then I'll bring only her heart back to you." She threw Janice's head then rose up swiftly. Alti ignored the movement of the weak woman on the floor as she glided to the door. She ordered the guard to open it and she left.
Janice slumped to the floor in an emotional heap. Her anger and mental anguish ate away at her as she cried for her mother. The vision Alti showed her now burned in her memory for all her life. She would never rid of those images of her mother's last hours on Earth. She clawed at the stone floor as if to tear it apart but she could not. Janice suddenly dropped her head back and screamed out, "Noooo!"
Janice's fury fueled her body with energy and she sat up quickly. She grabbed at the chains attached to her shackles and the floor. She pulled against them with both her hands and legs yet they simply gnawed at her ankles through her boots and skin, cutting through.
Janice's rage cooled down as her anguish coated her again. She release the manacles and stopped pulling then simply remained slumped there with tears freely flowing. For all those years she'd cursed her mother for leaving her and her father she could not take back. When all this time her mother had been sexual assaulted then murdered by some nameless man in Greece. She now tasted the bitterness of revenge in her mouth as she wanted to quench it badly with something or somebody. She would win this against Alti and she would kill Alti with her bare hands as soon as she had the chance. Janice would not allow that insane shaman to shift into her future and attack Melinda Pappas when Alti had already blackened Janice so deeply.
Chapter 8 – Faith
Janice jumped with a startle when her body detected another presence. She could only open her one eye even though it'd been almost a day since the incident. She found a pair of cold blue eyes staring at her and reading her like an open book. She fisted her hands at her side but she didn't bother climbing to her feet before this dark ruler.
The Conqueror greatly towered over the prisoner. "I see you've already had one visitor."
Janice's body involuntarily shivered at the frozen, husky voice of the ruler. "We were getting acquainted." She gave her best smug expression despite her distorted features. "I guess you didn't come down for a cup of tea with me?"
The ruler flashed a grin but her eyes didn't reveal any amusement at the joke. "I avoid these retched dungeons as much as I can."
"It's your own handy work," reminded the archeologist, "but I feel so honored."
The Conqueror's eyes finally did light up with amusement. "You have spirit, Janice Covington." She stepped closer then knelt down to become level with the bruised, beaten, and cut woman. She stretched out her right hand; her fingertips tilted the blonde's head to the right then to the left. "Now how does one come to look exactly like the rebel Gabrielle, hmmm?"
Janice huffed. "It’s a long fuckin' ass story." She was amazed that such a ruthless ruler had a gentle touch.
The Conqueror relinquished her hold and studied the woman's features to memory. "I bet it is," she whispered. "I hear you've met the rebel faction members… the followers of Gabrielle."
The archeologist narrowed her eyes. "If you think I'll tell you anything fuckin' forget it."
The Conqueror's eyes lit up by the challenge thrown at her. "We will see, Janice Covington." She tilted her head to the side and her blue eyes flashed with mirth. "So how is Queen Cyane?"
Janice said nothing but her features deceived her with all her hatred.
The ruler's lips played with a feral grin. "She seems to weaken with each passing day, I've noticed. Her Nation is rotting away to nothing and I don't even have to lift a finger."
"At least Queen Cyane is a just ruler."
The Conqueror laughed in response. "Do not be fooled, Janice. Simply because she is just does not make her an excellent ruler."
"But it does make her a better one compared to you," challenged the archeologist.
"Perhaps," murmured the ruler. She then leaned in and quietly whispered, "It no longer concerns you though. Right now… you know some things that I wish to possess. Maybe we can trade."
"What's to trade?" questioned the archeologist.
The Conqueror brought out her best grin. "You give me the names of the faction followers and I'll make your death swift."
Janice's eyes darkened three shades and she hotly whispered, "Go to fuckin' hell, you sick son of a bitch." She never saw it coming when the ruler's swift hands leapt out. Janice's neck suddenly tightened at her last breath and she could only gasp for air. She grabbed at her throat but it was useless as her lungs couldn't fill with air any longer.
"Tell me the names and I'll release it." The Conqueror watched as the small woman's head dropped back, her eyes unfocused on the ceiling above. "You have twenty heartbeats left before you die."
"Thank… god then," rasped Janice. Her eyes swam in the lights darkened around her. She lost control of her body and she slumped against the wall.
The Conqueror saw the maroon blood trail down Janice's upper lip. Then Janice collapsed completely and the Conqueror's hands quickly shot out to release the pinch. She growled as the small prisoner remained unconscious on the cold floor. She sprung up to her full height and yelled for the guard.
Janice awoke some time later by a splash of hot water hitting her upper body. She screamed against the heat of the water but she shook it off and focused on what was happening to her. Her good eye finally open and she realized why her wrists hurt so bad as she was being hung from the rafters above her. Her boots just skimmed the stone floor that had a thin coating of blood from a previous prisoner.
Janice knew she was on the second level of the dungeon since there were other prisoners hanging around her and across from her. She became frantic and tried to wriggle her wrists free from the rope high above. The restraining rope wouldn't give and merely chewed into her wrists for her resistance.
"Stop struggling," coldly ordered the ruler's voice from by the doorway. She strolled down to the archeologist with a familiar dagger in her right hand as she played with it in her nails. "This will go faster if you cooperate."
The archeologist was breathing heavily and clenching her fists. She never felt so helpless and desperate in her life but she would not give into this ruthless woman.
"Are you familiar with the torture known as Língchí?" casually inquired the Conqueror. She stood in front of her enemy. "Well, it’s one of my favorite methods of torture that I discovered in Chin." She showed her teeth to Janice in a hungry grin. "The word Língchí translates to death by a thousand cuts." She lifted the dagger in salute.
Janice growled at what was coming towards her. She wrapped her fingers around the wrap that her hands were lashed to. She hysterically started moving and managed to swing her body using the rope.
The Conqueror jumped aside in surprise by the cleverness of the woman's attempt. She laughed in excitement at such spirit in her prisoner. "Guard, get the weights!" she snapped.
Janice's ankles were shackled but she had some range of motion so she tried her best to take a kick at the heartless ruler.
Again the Conqueror jumped back and laughed at the attempted assault. When she saw two guards returned with lead weights that had eyes at the top and ropes tied through the eyes, she ordered them to get Janice under control.
The archeologist fought against her attackers but she had little strength left. She yelled and screamed yet the ruler, herself, lashed the lead weights to each of her ankles.
The guards stepped back when it was done.
The Conqueror was content at how Janice could no longer struggle. "Now…." She removed Janice's dagger from her side and gave it a spin between her fingers. "For every five cuts I make, you have a chance to tell me what I want to know." She brought the dagger up against the soft stomach in front of her and she let the tip travel up and down Janice's stomach. "And where should I begin? Any requests?"
Janice gritted her teeth and tried one last attempt to struggle but it was hopeless.
"No?" murmured the Conqueror. "Well… how about here?" She pressed the blade into Janice's skin just under her right rib.
Janice hissed hotly at the sting.
The Conqueror release the pressure then casually let the tip scrape across Janice's right side as she encircled her prisoner. She came to Janice's back side and suddenly she pushed the blade in deeper again.
Janice opened her mouth but contained her scream. Her head slumped forward some and she saw the cut on her stomach, the blood trickling down towards her waistband. She bit her lower lip and her eyes slammed shut when the searing sting flashed down across her upper back.
"You see, Janice," started the ruler's chilled voice, "it isn't that you just bleed to death from this torture." She made a neat design with the blade's tip but she didn't press it in… yet. "It's actually the fact that your wounds become infected." She came to Janice's left side now and pushed the dagger's side into Janice's.
Janice hissed and gave a small cry of pain.
"Then you become sick," continued the ruler. She now stood in font of her prisoner. "Maggots will eat away at your flesh." She brought the dagger near the first cut she made at Janice's stomach. "These wounds won't heal when you're sleeping in dirt with no food… no medical attention." She suddenly sliced the knife across her prisoner's stomach again so that the two cuts made an 'X' design. "Tell me, Janice… who are they?"
The archeologist opened her pain filled, unswollen eye and her angry voice whispered, "Fuck you."
The Conqueror amusingly chuckled and replied, "That could be arranged but I don't lay with faction scum."
"Too much on your own level?" coldly shot back Janice.
The ruler had a wiry grin and she quickly cut the dagger across Janice's chest, just over her right breast. "You faction fools are all alike." She began circling her prey again. "Rid the world of the Conqueror and there will be peace." She slashed the dagger across Janice's back on a diagonal. "You rebels do not realize how many power hungry murders I hold at bay from taking control."
"And you are so merciless," sarcastically breathed the prisoner.
The Conqueror was slicing Janice's upper left thigh but on the side. "I rule with fear… I am feared and I am fear."
Janice was gritting her teeth from all the stinging over her body. Her skin could feel the slow trickle of warm blood. "You are a fuckin' bitch with no legacy and no future."
The ruler stopped in front of her prisoner and wildly grinned. "Were you talking about me… or you?" She suddenly lashed out with the dagger making a long cut completely across Janice's lower abdomen.
Janice instantly screamed against the pain. She hung her head down, her good eye closed, and she tried to pull her mind from her pained body. The Conqueror's voice would fade in and out as much as the stinging cuts over her body. She then sensed the weights released from her ankles some time later. Then her body was dropped roughly to the dirty floor and she tried to struggle as she was dragged back to her cell on the first floor. She was finally thrown into her cell and a soldier shackled her back to the floor, freed her hands of the rope but not without putting manacles on them too.
Finally Janice was left alone in her cell. She remained on her side as her breathing was heavy, her eyes closed. Her stomach was ravishing her insides for food, which gave her a pounding headache. Her blood oozed from her wounds and trickled into the cracks of the stone floor. She didn't care anymore. All she could think about was the people she loved so dearly that seemed so far from her. She began to realize that she'd failed each of those people she loved as she laid here slowly dying physically and mentally.
At some unknown point, Janice slipped into her dreams that only continued the Conqueror's torture. It wasn't until the prison door opened and slammed that she stirred awake some. She opened her good eye while her other eye slightly broke open but her view was fuzzy in that eye. She took in the black boots in her view but she didn't bother to look up at her visitor.
"Guards, prepare her so she can hang from her ankles," commanded the cold voice of the Conqueror. "We still have unfinished business, Janice Covington."
The guards rushed into the cell and one unlocked her chains at her ankles then he grabbed her manacles at her ankles. The second sentry grabbed her wrist manacles then together the guards lifted the small body up from the floor.
The Conqueror watched with a feral smile as the prisoner was carried away. She peered down at the ground and assessed the amount of blood from the woman's body left on the floor. It'd been two days since she'd begun the Língchí torture but Janice's body seemed to handle the first fifty cuts fairly well. She would never admit to admiring the woman's strength to hold out but she had ever intent of breaking Janice Covington.
Janice's head spun as the blood rushed to her head while she hung upside down now. She would have been sick if there was anything left in her stomach besides acids. When the Conqueror stepped in front of her, images of throwing her shackles around the ruler's throat and choking her came to her. Yet Janice couldn't move her weak arms that were raw and red from several long dagger cuts.
"Tell me, Janice what I want to know," ordered the ruler. She produced the dagger from her side. When there was absolutely no response, she began her slow cutting dance around her prey. She reopened some old cuts and made fresh ones.
Janice never screamed, never spoke, and her mind was removed from her body. She could feel her body in pain but she was numb to it all. If she transcended into the afterlife now, then it would be so beautiful compared to this and her heart actually welcomed the idea.
The Conqueror grew angry when she completed her next step of the Língchí torture that gave her nothing. She knew exactly what'd happened to Janice having experienced it herself in the past. She would have to jar the archeologist back into reality and she had the perfect means to do just that.
The prisoner was brought down from her hanging position then hauled back up to the first level. She was dropped in the cell, chained, and left alone with nothing. Janice's head swam as she faded in and out of the world. Then she heard a lot of movement that awoke her from her nightmares. She was able to open both her eyes despite her left eye was barely focusing and things were cloudy. Janice good eye centered on a familiar face sitting across from her but then something occurred to her.
Janice's body had a brief charge of energy and she sat up. Her features were full of fear and terror as she stared at the marred face of Rhodes. "Holy… shit," she gasped and backed against the wall.
"Welcome back," offered the Conqueror, who stood off the side so that Janice could have a clear view of the dead advisor. "I see you haven't lost all your senses."
Janice was digging her nails into the floor and she turned her head away from Rhodes. "What did you fuckin' do to him?"
"I killed him," mildly answered the ruler. "But… after I punished him." She knelt down beside the dead body and pointed at his mouth that hung open. "I first cut his tongue out… for all his lies." She smiled at Janice as her hand pointing finger lifted to his eyes. "Then I cut out his eyes for seeing things he should have never saw in the rebels." Then she indicated the side of Rhode's head. "Last, I cut his ears off for listening to the rebels' cause."
The Conqueror stood up and now walked over to Janice. She touched the small woman's furthest cheek and forced her to look at her and Rhodes behind her. "I knew for many moons that he was a traitor. I let him live and I played with his deceit because he didn't realize my spies were watching his every move." She leaned in closer then whispered, "I know everything that goes on in my realm."
The ruler removed her lingering touch then leaned back again. "I know where Gabrielle is now, Janice."
The archeologist's eyes focused on the ruler. "No," she breathed in disbelief.
"She's with the weak Amazon Nation." The Conqueror softly laughed at Janice's doubting features. "I've already ordered two legions of Spartan hoplites to be mobilized. They wait for three orders from me. Do you know what those orders are, Janice?"
The prisoner swallowed because she knew but she dared not say it aloud.
"First, to wipe the Amazon Nation off this Earth. Second, bring me the head of Queen Cyane. Then third…." The Conqueror hungrily whispered, "Bring me the rebel leader Gabrielle."
Janice gritted her teeth and she shook her head. "No… you bitch."
"You see, Janice I will win this." The ruler shrugged and plainly stated, "If I cannot cut the snake's body from its head then I will cut the head from its body."
"You can't slaughter those people!" hotly yelled the prisoner.
"I'm not, I am punishing traitors of the realm. The Amazons have aided the rebel leader. They will pay." The Conqueror suddenly stood up and her dark cape flowed down behind her. "However I am willing to give you one last chance, Janice." When angry eyes met her steel blues, she explained her offer. "You have a choice, you can either tell me who the faction followers are and I will order my legions to demobilize or you cannot and I will give my final orders." She smiled at the prisoner and amusingly summarized, "This is your last, great deed, Janice before you die." She stepped away until she was standing next to Rhode's dead corpse. "I'll leave you to discuss it with your… friend here." She peered down at the bloody, mutilated body. "I think though your words will fall on dead ears." She chuckled and walked towards the open door.
"Aren't you even the least bit concerned about where I came from?" challenged Janice.
The ruler paused in the doorway and turned back to the prisoner. "Honestly, no." She started to pull away again.
"What if I tell you it has something to do with Alti?"
The Conqueror hesitated again but she leered at the archeologist. "Alti is a walking deceit but she's valuable. I know her movements better than she does."
"Not in this case," shot back Janice, "She's played you well this time."
The Conqueror turned her head to Janice finally. "Perhaps after you've made your decision about the fate of the rebels then we'll discuss the terms for your information on Alti." Then with that she swiftly vanished from the cell with the door slamming shut.
Janice's jaw clenched and unclenched as she was left with Rhode's corpse. She turned her head away but he kept staring at her with his empty eye sockets. She turned her body some, lifted her knees, and buried her face into her knees. Rhodes kept staring at Janice though and his decaying corpse started to permeate in the cell after so many hours.
The archeologist wanted to cry but she had no tears left. Her emotions so raw and the only thing solid was her anger. Somehow she managed to fall asleep again but her nightmares were of Rhodes and his defaced corpse chasing her and tempting her.
The smell of the rotting body finally got to Janice and she ended up being sick in one of the corners of the cell. Her throat burned from the heavy acids of her stomach but she spit the last of it out. She then stumbled back and fell down then leaned against the wall. She tried to ignore the dead body but it was engrained in her head.
Janice slumped to the floor, her back to Rhode's corpse, and she curled up into a ball. She shifted into her nightmares for a long time and she never heard the guard come in to remove the corpse. The guard too tired of smelling the stench out in the prison hall as well as the circulating flies that ravished the body.
Janice awoke but she could not move as her body was too weak. She was weak from not eating and the wounds. Her body ached from the hard floor. Her skin stung all over from the aggravated cuts that were turning worse. The Conqueror had even been right about the maggots as two of them she found in the deep, red cut on her right thigh. She frantically clawed them out and got them out of her wound before they did anymore eating of her dead flesh around the wound. She then was alarmed when the guard unlocked the door from a barking command. She clenched her hands at her sides as the dark ruler strolled casually into the cell. Janice knew that the Conqueror wanted her answer to her choice. She knew as much as the Conqueror who Janice would choose but Janice wasn't sure if she could dare breathe it out. She would die by this heartless monster but her faith would not be broken by this raging hatred.
The Conqueror stepped through the door, her eyes flashing in feral power. Her cape circled her body in protection and her bronze armor shined her deadly beauty. The Conqueror twisted her head to the door and she snapped, "Go wait down the hall until I call for you."
Janice tried to sit up and managed to just as the dark ruler knelt down in front of her. Her good eye and hazy eye centered on the beautiful features of the dark ruler then she absorbed the soft blue eyes. Her heart stopped a beat at seeing such tenderness and she knew she must be crossing over with Melinda's beauty before her. She began to swoon and fall to her left yet strong hands captured her shoulders and held her up right.
"Janice," called a sweet voice. "Come on, Janice… don't do this to me... not now, please."
The archeologist's mind swam and she lifted her head as the dim light in the darkness filtered to her. She followed the light as fast as she could and slowly her eyes reopened to see the concerned features of the Conqueror.
"Come on, Janice," softly urged the Conqueror's soothing voice. "You're safe… everything is okay now."
Janice moaned when a tender hand touched her bruised cheek. She leaned into the touch when it felt so natural to her body. "Whaaat…"
"Janice, it's me."
The archeologist swallowed against her sandy throat as her ears detected the Conqueror's beautiful southern accent. The accent registered into her mind hastily and she lifted her head from the gentle touch. She was startled again and tried to back away from the Conqueror.
"No… no, it's okay." The Conqueror moved closer but was cautious with the scared woman. "It's me, Janice… It's Mel."
"No," growled Janice and she moved away. "You're playing with me… Alti told you about her." She grabbed at the hand on her cheek and tried to crush it with no avail.
"No, Janice it's really me." The Conqueror leaned in and murmured, "Would the Conqueror know your daddy is Doctor Harry Covington or that you have a disgusting habit with cigars?"
Janice still had a frightened expression but it faintly softened. "It's impossible… unless I'm dead."
The Conqueror swallowed the lump in her throat then murmured, "No but ya… were dying," she whimpered with so many emotions behind her words. "Ya safe now though."
"Mel?" gasped Janice, who started crying suddenly.
"Ooo god." Melinda Pappas, dressed as the ruthless Conqueror, reached for her friend and pulled her close to her body. "I'm so sorry, Janice."
The archeologist couldn't understand what'd happened but she didn't care in this instant. She buried her broken body into the familiar form of Melinda Pappas. She sobbed loudly and clenched onto the strong body.
Melinda held onto the fragile archeologist and started to rock their bodies in a rhythmic harmony. She could tell it was helping to soothe the shaking woman's senses as Janice came over her shock and fright. Melinda slightly drew away and wiped the tears away from the red, cut cheeks. "I promise you're safe, Janice."
Janice hands were tangled in the wire armor that wrapped around the black leathers that Melinda wore. "Mel, it's really you?"
Melinda subconsciously licked her lips then slowly nodded. "It's really me, Janice." She brushed back blond bangs on Janice's forehead and she tilted her head as she realized something. "And what in God's name did you do to your hair, Janice Covington?"
Janice now laughed in pure relief and tears streamed from her eyes once more. "It's really you, Mel."
Melinda's features were soft and eyes full of worry. "It's me," she confirmed once and for all.
"How… what… I don't understand."
"I know," assured the translator. "It’s a long story but we ain't gonna discuss it here or now." She swallowed against that hard lump in her throat that meant her emotions were on the surface. "We'll talk about it later, I promise. Right now we need to take care of ya."
The archeologist shook her head because she had no idea what to do or say at this point. She could barely grasp the concept of being tortured by the Conqueror earlier and now resting in Melinda's arms, who was dressed as the ruler.
"I'll get ya out of here, okay? We'll get your wounds taken care of then get ya fed."
Janice slowly nodded; she wasn't sure what to say.
The southerner carefully released her friend and placed her back on the floor. She then stood up.
The archeologist watched in awe as her best friend seemed to do some mental shift when her eyes closed then opened again. She slightly tensed thinking that Melinda wasn't really her and that it was her mind playing games.
Melinda went to the door and pounded on it roughly while calling, "Guard!" Her southern draw was completely gone.
The sentry scuffled down the hallway and opened the door. When the ruler didn't step out right away he had curious features.
"I want the prisoner taken to my slaves," coldly ordered the Conqueror. "See that you tell them to bathe her and feed her. Then tell my healer to take care of the wounds."
The stunned guard blinked at the ruler like she was Medusa.
The Conqueror snarled, jumped forward, and brought her hand around the man's neck. "Do we have a hearing probably?" She easily started lifting the guard from the ground.
"N-n-no, my liege!"
The dark ruler threw the man through the door way and pleasingly watch him hit the floor. "Then carry out my orders, now!" She then stepped out of the open cell, bent down in front of him, and softly threatened, "If she is harmed anymore then I'll hold you responsible for it. Are we communicating clearly?"
"Y-y-yes, my liege… she'll be taken care of right away."
"She better be," snapped the furious ruler, who stood up finally. She stole one last look at the prisoner in the cell.
Janice was holding her body up with her hands and she saw the comfort and hidden love in those familiar, blue eyes. She was assured again, which made her relax some.
The Conqueror suddenly turned and rushed down the hallway at a fast pace.
The guard climbed to his feet and was rubbing his aching back for a few heartbeats. He grunted at the prisoner and mildly joked, "Don't go anywhere." He slammed the heavy door shut then marched off to find another guard to help him.
Janice lowered her head against the wall and her thoughts were reeling faster than light. She couldn't comprehend how it was possible for Melinda Pappas to be here in this time too let alone role playing the Conqueror. She was bulked down by so many questions that wouldn't be answered until much later.
The archeologist softly moaned and touched her forehead that started to pound with a headache. She had to settle down or else she would simply go insane. There was too much to grasp and understand right now but first thing was first and that was getting cleaned up, thank god.
The sentry returned with another one and the pair did what they knew best. They freed Janice from the chains that attached to the floor then they merely lifted her by her arm and leg manacles. With easy, the frustrated sentries carried the dangling woman like meat on a skewer and took her through the dungeon and into the fortress.
Janice's vision swirled and spun in circles as everything passed her so quickly. She heard the boots scuffing on the floor, the ceiling passing over head, and the grunts of the guards. Then she was lowered onto a cool but soft stone floor and the guards roughly grabbed her shackles.
"The Conqueror wants her cleaned up… the healer will be over too," barked a guard to somebody. He stood up while throwing the manacles over his leather padded shoulders. "Feed her too." He stepped away but paused to add, "I'll post two guards by the doors incase you have a problem with her." His brown eyes flickered to the beat up, cut up, and weaken prisoner then he chuckled while saying, "I doubt you will though." With that, he signaled his buddy to leave with him.
Janice was completely in a daze as two curious, female faces hovered above her and they were saying something. She couldn't understand them at all except for a few broken words that filtered through. She quietly groaned and closed her eyes. Then soft, small hands were under her shoulders and back thighs. Her body again was floating in the air but then soothing, warm water gradually embraced her. The beautiful scent of laurel and lilac filled her very senses.
The prisoner tried to open her eyes when there were strong arms around her waist and a silky body pressing into her back, holding her up carefully. She discovered the striking features of a young, tan face, who was smiling at her. The silky lips that the young woman possessed slowly moved but the words that escaped didn't register to Janice's jumbled mind.
Instead, the archeologist moaned at the sensual feelings invading her body that were so opposite of her earlier days. She relished it and it soothed her ravishing hatred that was very much a monster in her. She leaned her head back until there was a broad shoulder behind her that let her rest there. She closed her aching left eye and her good eye so that her body could simply soak in the beautiful tenderness all around her.
"Theresa, look?" murmured the slave standing in front of Janice, who held a soft sponge in her right hand.
Theresa, who was behind Janice and holding Janice upright, shifted her head and gazed down at the indicted water. Her eyes widened in horror at how the soapy water was tinted red by blood. "We must hasten to clean her, Nakia. The Conqueror will not be pleased if she dies here in our care."
The young slave quickly understood and tried to clean Janice as fast as she could but it was hard. She'd never seen so many cuts in her life on one's body yet her administrations were thought out and tender.
"Theresa, can you untie her top?"
"No, you will have to get it. She will fall if I release her."
Nakia lowered the sponge into the pool of warm, fragrant water. She came to the right side of the pair and worked between the prisoner and Theresa. She managed to undone the tie in the back. Next she went ahead and removed the leather skirt.
"Don’t' forget her boots," offered Theresa.
Nakia had taken several heartbeats to clean the leathers in the water. She tossed them onto the ledge nearby then she finally reached underwater to get the boots. She was able to unlace them each and one by one, she pulled them off of the prisoner's feet. Finally with the clothes out of the water and on the ledge, Nakia cleaned the prisoner's body one last time. She fully enjoyed the beautiful body this small prisoner had even though the cuts, deep gashes, and bruises disfigured her greatly.
"Is she clean, Nakia?"
"We need to do her hair," reminded the smaller slave.
Theresa nodded and did her best to shift around until the prisoner was facing her, leaning her small frame against her larger body. "I'll lower her down." Very carefully and gradually, Theresa lowered Janice deeper until the back of her head just touched the water.
Nakia was now able to work her soapy hands carefully through the stranger's golden hair. When she got to the back of the woman's head, she felt the hair matted and small clumps in her hands. She was shocked to find dried pieces of blood. She tended to the bloody hair and softly worked the dried blood out of the blond locks. Finally she finished up by washing out the soap and saying, "We're finished, Theresa."
The tall slave took her cue and cautiously lifted the moaning prisoner back up. "Go to the steps first."
Nakia easily pushed through the pool of water and turned after going up a few steps. When Theresa was close enough with the stranger, she helped lift her up into the air. She and Theresa carried the semi-conscious prisoner through the bathing room to the other left side where they'd already prepared a long bench with a towel spread out on it. They lowered her on the bench but adjusted her until her head rested on the two towels stacked up as a makeshift pillow.
Theresa then hurried off to get some towels for drying the stranger's body down.
Nakia bent over the prisoner and studied the woman. She couldn't imagine what this prisoner had gone through in the dungeons and she also didn't understand why the Conqueror would save anyone from the dungeons. She lifted her head when Theresa handed her a towel.
Together the pair toweled the stranger's raw skin but as they went their towels grew redder from the bleeding. The wounds had been reopened by the warm bath.
"Nakia, get our robes before the healer arrives. I'll dry her hair."
The small, dark slave didn't argue. She rushed off and left Theresa to finish up. When she returned, she already had her black robe on and was holding out Theresa's to her.
Theresa slipped hers on just as the healer entered the guarded bathing room.
The healer stopped just after entering the bathing room. He spotted what he suspected was his patient and he hurried over to the slaves with the slim form on the bench. He first hefted his bag of medical supplies then stepped up and fear waved over his features at seeing the woman's body on the bench. "By the gods… what's happened?"
Nakia's eyes flickered over to Theresa.
Theresa sighed and folded her arms over her chest. "She's from the dungeons."
The healer was scanning over the endless injuries but he waited a beat and studied Theresa as if to gauge her honesty. He believed her though because this stranger certainly displayed many forms of torture. He wondered how many wounds she had mentally from the tortures she suffered.
The healer quietly worked to stop the random bleeding from the freshly open wounds. He occasionally asked the slaves to help him but he mostly did everything. He used jewelweed balsam on her cuts and there were a few he actually wrapped because they were so deep. He then administered arnica over the bruises in hopes it'd help drive the blood out and settle it. The second to last thing he dealt with was her left swollen eye that was discharging a white puss and most likely was obscuring her vision. He only prayed he was here soon enough so that her vision wouldn't be permanently damaged. He removed a white lotion from his supplies then carefully rubbed it in over her eyelid then completely around her eye.
"She has a wound on the back of her head too," mentioned Nakia.
The healer sighed at this information but he peered up at Theresa. "Can you lift her up while I check?" When the slave did that, he inspected the back of her head and his fingers sensed the wound. From his more intense inspection, the stranger moaned and slightly stirred. He decided it was best to add some balsam to her head wound too so that it'd heal properly. He was relieved to find out that her skull wasn't cracked amazingly, the blood merely from the scalp being broken open.
The healer ordered the slave to lower her back down then he hunted through his medical supplies for something. He couldn't find what he wanted so he'd have to get it later and deliver it.
"Will she live?" murmured Nakia.
The healer was closing his bag up. "Surprisingly… yes." He studied the nude but mangled body of the prisoner. He'd seen this torture before done by the Conqueror. In past times, he was called in to confirm a prisoner's death but this was the first time he was called in to confirm a prisoner's life. He could not imagine what'd caused the Conqueror to change her mind. "She'll need bed rest."
Nakia folded her arms over her chest. "What of her wounds? Should we care for them?"
"I will take care of them," answered the healer. He stopped staring at the small woman and looked between the slaves. "One of you should get her more awake and keep her awake for a full day. She may have a concussion."
Theresa eyed the smaller slave.
Nakia understood and offered a smile to the healer. "I'll take care of her."
The healer faintly nodded then lifted his medical supplies off the bench. "Well… hopefully her sanity is still alive." With that, he headed off and would make a direct report to the Conqueror as she would expect of him.
"Let's get her to a room," suggested Theresa.
"Should I try to wake her?"
The tall slave carefully considered this then nodded. "You wake her, I'll find a room for her." She hurried off to the main door that the healer just left through.
Nakia first sought out a robe and came back with it. She let it hang from her left hand while she tried to stir the small woman. "You must wake up." She received a quiet groan.
Janice transcended from her half waken, half sleeping state. She'd felt all the caresses for the past half an hour or so but her skin felt chilled again. She tried to open her eyes. She was greeted by a dark, smiling face above her.
"Sit up, come on." Nakia tried to get the stranger to lift up, her small hands behind the prisoner's back. "That's it."
The archeologist let out a whimper when her muscles protested against the work of sitting up.
"Here." Nakia lifted the stranger's right arm and started the long process of getting the robe on her.
Janice truly tried to help by lifting her limbs yet it was wearing. Her head slumped forward some, her eyes half closed. However when hand patted her right cheek to stir her, she lifted her head.
"You cannot sleep. You must be awake." Nakia closed the robe around the small frame and tied the sash. She cupped her hands under the stranger's face and held her head up. She read the shallowness in both sets of eyes, which made her heart seize for a beat. "I am Nakia. What is your name?"
Janice slightly shook her head and for a long second, her eyes closed then opened slowly again. "Jan… Janice," she mumbled.
Nakia was surprised to get any response yet she smiled in hope. Her head straightened up sharply when Theresa arrived again. "Theresa, she cannot walk."
The taller slave didn't like this because otherwise the guards would haul the prisoner down to the room. She didn't like that idea since it could be held over her and Nakia's heads. She also felt for this prisoner. "If you get her right side, I'll get her left."
Nakia agreed and bent her knees. "Janice, put your arm around my neck and your left arm around Theresa's waist."
The archeologist needed an extra second to register the request. She slipped her right around across Nakia's shoulders then managed her arm across the taller woman's waist.
"On the count of three," offered Theresa. "One… two… three." All at once, they managed to get Janice somewhat on her feet.
Janice's body felt light like she was floating but her feet still touched the floor. She was helped through the beautiful, damp bathing room and taken to double doors.
Theresa knocked on it and a guard opened it for them.
The guards straightened up as the prisoner was helped out of the room. They figured they better follow so they could keep an eye on the prisoner but they knew she wouldn't go anywhere. Still, they didn't want to suffer under the Conqueror's wrath.
The slaves and Janice made it down the hall a ways then Theresa opened the chamber door. She and Nakia stopped in front of the bed. "Nakia, I'll help her up."
Nakia slipped Janice's arm from her shoulders and positioned Janice's hand on the bed instead.
Janice gathered what was next so she tried to help by hauling her frail body into the bed.
"Nakia, you stay and make sure she doesn't sleep. I'll get some food." With that, Theresa slipped out of the chambers and closed the door behind her.
Nakia climbed into the bed too but faced the stranger. She helped Janice get under the covers so that she'd be warm but she didn't let Janice lay down. Instead she took the three large pillows and positioned them so that Janice sat upright in bed. "You must remain awake, Janice." She patted the woman's slashed cheeks.
"I'm trying," murmured the prisoner. She rested her head against the headboard of the bed. "What's your name?"
The young slave smiled and sat cross legged next to the interesting woman. "My name is Nakia."
Janice offered her own smile but her lips ached from the cuts and dryness. "That's… Egyptian… right?"
Nakia was stunned, her smile brighter now. "I am from Egypt, yes. I was given to the Conqueror by Queen Cleopatra."
The archeologist huffed and tried to study the dark features of Nakia. "Do you miss home?"
"I was young when I was given to the Conqueror. I only have unpleasant memories of home."
"How old?" murmured Janice.
"I was sixteen winters old," answered Nakia, "but I'll be twenty-one winters soon." She now dared to ask her own question. "You said your name is Janice but are you not Gabrielle?"
Janice almost wanted to laugh but she couldn't quite. "No… I'm pretty sure I'm still just Janice."
Nakia chuckled at this response but she'd heard the rumors about the rebel leader and she'd even been so courageous to see the rebel when she spoke against the Conqueror so long ago. "You are brave, Janice and also lucky."
Janice didn't agree at all. She shook her head and stared down at her cut up hands.
The slave sensed her distraught so she covered the cut hands with her dark hands. "You are," she insisted, "they say nobody survives the Conqueror but you have."
The archeologist swallowed because she knew the truth about why she survived. There was only one reason why she survived when in fact she'd really failed.
"You and Gabrielle," thought aloud Nakia. "You two must have a trick." She received a faint grin from the stranger, which warmed her too. "Theresa will be back soon with food."
"I think I'm… thirsty," admitted the archeologist. She couldn't recall the last time she drank anything. Her body was suffering from dehydration by now and she would need the fluids soon.
"Theresa will bring some water too," promised the slave. Just as she finished speaking, Theresa returned with a tray of food.
Theresa deposited the tray between Janice and Nakia. "Take care of her, Nakia. I will… I will see to the Conqueror."
Nakia gave a sympathetic expression and called to Theresa by the door. "Thank you."
Theresa gave a minor smile then vanished once again.
Nakia continued her tending of the prisoner by helping her eat the food. The food itself was rather light such as a warm soup, a little bit of soft bread, and then a couple handfuls of grapes. Janice was relieved to have some soft food as her jaw was just as sore as everything else. She then sipped on a mug of warm tea that had an odd herb in it. She didn't question it as it maybe something to help her.
Janice held the warm mug between her aching hands, her head against the headboard again.
Nakia was placing the empty tray on the table near the door. As she came back, the stranger spoke to her.
"Nakia, tell me about Egypt. I haven't been there… yet."
The slave got onto the bed again and returned to her same position. "If you promise to stay awake….?"
"I will," murmured the worn archeologist.
Nakia slowly nodded while brushing back a long strand of her midnight hair. She began relaying her tales of her homeland and particularly about the famous Queen Cleopatra, who she served for some time. She made sure to thoughtfully watch for any signs of Janice falling asleep but Janice never slipped away.
Here and there Janice would ask questions but only so many than she normally would do. Her mind was mushy and she doubted her memory would recall half this conversation with Nakia. Still though the conversation kept her awake and her mind worked on something other than her current situation.
Janice stole a quick look out of the window nearby and estimated it must be somewhere near seven o'clock as the sun's setting rays poured into the room. She wished she could see the sunset since she hadn't seen the sun in so long while in the dungeon. She promised herself that as soon as she was able to move around that she would do just that.
Nakia stopped talking when a sentry opened the door. She straightened up when the powerful, dark Conqueror stepped in with a cold expression. "My liege," she respectfully greeted and bowed her head.
The Conqueror absorbed the scene of her slave sitting on the bed with the prisoner. "Theresa reported you and her have tended to the… prisoner."
Janice swallowed and silently watched and listened.
"Yes, my liege." Nakia's head was bowed, her dark tresses fallen around her face. "She has eaten too."
The ruler quickly crossed the distance from the doorway after signaling the sentries to close the door. She stretched out her right hand and brought her fingertips under Nakia's chin. When fearful brown eyes met hers, she narrowed her crystal blue eyes. "See that you continue with such care until the prisoner is well."
"Of course, my liege."
"Good." The Conqueror relinquished her touch and ordered, "Now see to my room with Theresa until a guard finds you."
Nakia quickly compiled and slipped out of the bed. She went to the door but also picked up the empty tray from earlier. She silently left the Conqueror and prisoner alone but her prayers were sent out to Janice.
The Conqueror's body released some unknown hold when the chamber door closed. "How do ya feel, Janice?"
Janice settled her strangling clench of her mug and tried to relax when she saw that eerie shift in the woman before her. "A little better."
Melinda's features were no long hard like that of a ruler but incredibly soft and worried. "The healer said he cleaned your wounds. He will check regularly on ya."
Janice mutely nodded, her gaze lowered to her mug.
Melinda stepped closer then she gently brought her hand against Janice's cheek.
The archeologist flinched and involuntarily moved her head away.
Melinda's stomach turned at the reaction that her touch invoked. She should have expected much since she not only looked just as her descendant but was role playing the ruler that was just torturing Janice. "Janice, I am sorry this's happened."
Janice detected the emotional ache in the southerner's words. She closed her eyes for a second but lifted her head and captured Melinda's gaze. "I am too." Her eyes moistened yet she refused to cry anymore so she looked away quickly. "How did you get here, Mel? How… long now?"
The translator bit her lower lip. "I know you're confused, Janice and I want to tell ya everything but not right now. You've been through too much and need to rest."
The archeologist had no energy or words to argue, she simply nodded.
Melinda exhaled sadly at the lack of light and character in her friend; she knew it would take time. "The healer said ya may have a concussion."
Janice slowly nodded then murmured, "I'll stay awake."
"I'll come back later and check on ya," stated the worried southerner.
The archeologist shook her head, still staring in her mug. "Don't worry, Mel."
"It ain't an offer, Janice Covington." Melinda titled her head to get a better view of the bowing head of her friend. "I'm worried."
"I know," muttered the archeologist. She swallowed then finally lifted her head. "This is… really hard for me." She signaled weakly with her left hand at Melinda's body. "You're even dressed just like… like her."
Melinda's jaw clenched then unclenched against her emotional thoughts. She now realized that Janice was making a mental association of her to the Conqueror, especially with this particular attire. She gave herself a mental note to root through the ruler's attire to find something different. At least it'd give her a different light in front of the shaken archeologist. "I know, Janice… give it some time."
All Janice could do was nod her answer.
Melinda wanted to touch her friend, to reassure her physically like she'd done in the cell however the earlier shock had worn off the archeologist. Now the ramification of the sinister ruler's torture was seeping deeply into Janice's conscious and heart. Melinda wasn't sure what else to say or do so she knew she could not recoil from Janice no matter how hard this was for her too. "I'll be back later."
Janice's head rose as her friend moved swiftly away and glided to the door. She saw how Melinda hesitated at the door and there were words on Janice's lips that she could not speak out but her heart wanted her to do it. All of her being refused to open her cleaned wounds and so she built up a protection for them.
Melinda cast one last look at her friend then she silently left the room.
Janice remained still in the bed, her head slumped, and her eyes closed. Her frame suddenly shook with silent sobs that stung her eyes but she contained her burning tears with tight eyelids. The one person she needed more than anybody else now reminded her of the person she most hated. Why her?