Note: I have kinda lost faith in Xenastaff since, "Seed of Faith", so I am continuing the adventures of our mighty duo from my story, "Everything That Is." Xena and Gabrielle still belong to Renn. Pix, but I'm borrowing them at no profit to myself for more reasonable adventures. All other characters are mine.
Everything is Alive
Flat, forested land dotted with bogs--the borrowed horse with the odd gait between her legs and the almost constant daylight; these combined to make Xena jump at every little sound.
Xena was nervous. She had some bad memories of this place, and didn't exactly want to share them with Gabrielle. The tiaga had always spooked Xena. Yes, she felt more at peace since that shaman friend of Gabrielle's had done his ceremony. She knew he was a good man, who knew his business. But this stand of trees was an awful lot like the ones where she had wiped out Cyan's Amazon's. It was like the country where she had first met Alti. The pines and aspens were mingled here, where the land had grown flat.
Xena saw a reindeer in a fell. Its horns thrust and curved in contrast to the straight limbs on the surrounding trees. She glanced down at Gabrielle by her side and smiled at the memory of Gabrielle's account of riding one of the huge beasts.
"Gabrielle, did you see the reindeer? Maybe you can catch a ride."
Gabrielle laughed. "Sure. You'd love to watch that, wouldn't you? This is very pretty country. I'm glad Kumaris suggested we go this direction. Of course, he always has an ulterior motive. I just wonder what it is."
Then she looked at Xena with just a hint of suspicion. Xena shifted in the saddle. This earth-colored horse was transportation only, and Xena missed having her friend Argo with her. Xena winced, then took a deep breath.
"I know why. It's my past--again. I rode with Borias through country like this, and I met someone, someone who was as bad an influence on me as you are a good one. I really don't want to talk about this Gabrielle."
It was then that the reindeer transformed into Alti.****************************************************************************
Alti grinned when she saw the look of horror on Xena's face. This was fun. She liked reminding Xena of what she once was, and so easily might become again, with the proper guidance. And how convenient that she already had a pretty little blonde with her. How kind of Xena to provide her own bait.
The little blonde put her staff into fighting position. Alti laughed, and blew a breath at her. The wind roared as it moved to Gabrielle, and knocked her off her feet. Alti laughed, and turned to smile at Xena.
Xena pulled her sword from its scabbard, and spurred her horse toward Alti. Alti waited until the last possible second, and then hit Xena with the death of Borias. The memory was enough to throw Xena from her horse. Xena was panting from the emotions Alti was able to play inside the stage of her mind. The little blond was up and running towards her. Alti scanned her mind, and found--nothing. There was a hard shell over her mind. Someone had trained her to hide her memories. Alti used her mind to toss the little woman into the air, and drop her against a tree. But that training bothered her. The woman had friends. Alti wondered who.
Alti looked carefully at the blonde's clothing. There was no clue. It was drab and plain. She looked down at her feet. The soft boots looked like those commonly worn in the area. There was embroidery along the boot tops, and something familiar about the style. Then Alti looked at the staff. The carvings sent a chill through her to the bone.
"Kumaris," she said to herself. She almost left then, but there was a perverse part of Alti that had to stay and toy with Xena.
Xena shook her head to clear it. This was a new and nasty power. She worried about the terrible memories Alti might be able to dredge up in Gabrielle. She waited until the would-be Shaman threw Gabrielle into the air, and swooped down on Alti. Her sword was within an inch of the sorceress' jugular vein when Xena was hit by the double blow of reliving Solon's death, and the solid wall that sprang up where her head was. It was invisible, which was no help at all in avoiding it. Alti laughed as the Warrior Princess was dumped on her rear end.
She was hovering over Xena now, like a bird of prey. The power came out from her fingertips and eyes. Xena willed herself to stand on shaky legs. From the Gods only knew where, an otter appeared. It raced up to Alti, wrapped itself around her legs, and bit her deeply on her leg. Alti howled in pain, and swiped at the animal with her arm. Xena took advantage of the incident to jump on her horse, scoop up Gabrielle, and ride as fast and far as they could.
At the next crossroads, there was a man on reindeer back waiting for them. Gabrielle stared.
"Tendris? He sent you to help us?", said Gabrielle.
"I'm sure you would like more competent help. So would I, as a matter of fact. All three of them insisted. I was the only one to go. I could fight Alti--with your help, that is. I was perfectly capable of defeating her said Aunt Ghurtha. It's a good thing Delicate Flower said she would look in on us from time to time," said Tendris.
Gabrielle bit back her answer. He was still a boy, and he knew he was in over his head already. Anything she said would only make it worse. Suddenly she grinned.
"You were the otter. Good bite. How does she taste?"
Tendris grimaced. "Like cold, raw seal fat, you know, right before it freezes--with no salt."
Xena made a face. "Now that's graphic. Well, Mr. Shaman. What should we do now?"
Tendris looked terrified for just a second, then relaxed into his customary lethargy.
"I think we could attack her in the other world."
"You are not killing this horse," said Xena. And her nostrils flared.
"Where did you learn such stuff? That's not how to get into the other world."
"Oh, that's right, magic mushrooms and blood," and Xena almost snapped her fingers, then thought better of it and put her hand back on her saddlehorn.
Tendris paled just a bit. His jaw tightened, then relaxed. "I am not even going to ask where you heard about that one. No, my drum will do just fine."
"Won't she hear it and attack us while we are, um, not present?", asked Gabrielle.
"I'll set traps. She won't dare to bother us."
Xena's face showed sudden interest. "Traps? What kind? Pits? Snares? Dead falls? I love traps."
"Then you can make the physical traps. I'll make the other kind."
They arrived at a clearing which bore evidence of having been used for camping in the recent past. Rocks surrounded a heap of ash in a deserted fire pit. They dismounted and set up camp. Xena happily set to devising a variety of traps, Gabrielle helping with the digging, stringing, construction of trip wires, and so forth, while Tendris tied little bags of birch leaves together into a long, rawhide rope. He set the rope around the edge of the camp, careful to avoid the traps.
They had a strategy meeting next. Xena, naturally wanted to lead, but Tendris reminded her that she was the inexperienced one here, while he had the training. He was really afraid she was going to argue, but she backed down after a mere display. Tendris was really glad. He thought she was almost as stubborn as Delicate Flower. As he thought of her name, a beetle crawled up on his knee, and turned to look at him. He smiled, knowing she was true to her word. The beetle wandered off, leaving confidence in its wake.
"The traps will protect us. We need all three of us to defeat her. I have a lot of powerful herbs Delicate Flower gave me, and you each have something to say to her. Your words will make her weak. Well, Kumaris said, 'will reveal her weakness to you.' That's the same thing, isn't it?"
"Close enough,", said Xena. So, what do we say?"
"Xena, have you ever known Kumaris to make things that easy? You have the words inside you. When the time comes, you will say them."
Xena looked at Gabrielle. Oh great, now the old shaman was trying to get her to use her non-existent bardic skills. Of course if Alti got her mad enough, she would have quite a few words for the old bat, but nothing a young boy like Tendris should hear.
They sat in a circle as Tendris drummed. It was a driving beat, but hypnotic. Gabrielle was nodding quickly. She soon found herself standing in a meadow with Xena at her side. They grinned at each other. Tendris was at their side in a flash.*******************
Alti followed the sound of the drum to the circle. She waited for each one to fall into their trance, then slithered towards the defenseless group. She oozed around the trigger to the dead fall trap, stepped over the snare, and stopped at the rope. She tried to move past it, but was held fast. Alti swore, and backed away.
To part 2
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